16 June 2018

"Le premier jour de printemps à Moret", by Alfred Sisley--Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky
“Frühlingslandschaft”
The Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley, produced “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1889, an oil on canvas measuring 46,2 x 56 cm, signed and dated “Sisley. 89” on the lower left of the painting. The first name which appears on the provenance of the painting in the Christie’s sale listing for November 6, 2008, is “Camentron” with no date of acquisition.  There was a “Galerie Martin Camentron” in Paris in the 1890s which acquired a number of Sisley paintings. There was also a “collection Camentron” in which one could find a number of paintings by Sisley. 

The famed “Galerie Durand-Ruel” acquired “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1892 from Camentron, one of several that the gallery acquired, as attested by the provenance of a Sisley painting at the Musée d’Orsay.

Thirty years elapsed before Mr. Perdoux allegedly acquired the Sisley painting. There is nothing to indicate that he bought it from Durand-Ruel. This could be the same Perdoux as Yves Perdoux, a notorious Parisian art dealer who collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France and denounced the locations of a number of Jewish-owned art collections, including that of Paul Rosenberg.

The Lindon family name does not appear in the Christie's provenance of this painting. At some point, the Wildenstein gallery in Paris came into possession of the painting. If one did not know that Lindon was associated with the Sisley painting, it would be impossible to deduce exactly when Wildenstein bought the painting—before, during or after WWII. On or about 1972, “the present owner” of the painting purchased “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” and brought it to market at Christie’s on November 6, 2008 where Alain Dreyfus acquired it for 338,500 dollars.

So, what happened between Perdoux and Wildenstein?

The theft

Months after the German invasion of France in June 1940, the Lindenbaum/Lindon collection was confiscated and sent to the Jeu de Paume on December 10, 1940.   It included five paintings by Sisley which had been stored in a vault at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon in Paris, until their removal by the German financial police agents with the Devisenschutzkommando (DSK) on December 5, 1940. The inventory drawn up by the DSK agents indicated a painting by Sisley 
excerpt from the DSK inventory
entitled “Frühling in Moret”. The initial inventory drawn up when the Lindenbaum collection first entered the Jeu de Paume in December 1940 showed a painting by Sisley with the following title: “Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”, with a lower left signature and the date “89”. 

The ERR personnel at the Jeu de Paume gave the Sisley painting the title of “Frühlingslandschaft” (Spring landscape) and the number "Li 56"; it described the painting as a “View into a meadow landscape with still bare fruit trees, poplars and bushes. In the background a human figure”.
ERR card for Li 56



In early January 1943, a new inventory of the Lindenbaum collection was drawn up under the supervision of Dr. Schiedlausky, who was the principal manager of the ERR depot of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria near the town of Hohenschwangau close to Fussen. However a number of Impressionist and other modern works from the Lindenbaum collection remained at the Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris and were inventoried there on July 17, 1942 by Dr. Tomforde, one of the main art historians and cataloguers of confiscated collections working for the ERR in Paris. In May 1944, Dr. von Ingram working with Schiedlausky completed the Lindenbaum inventory at Neuschwanstein, including three Sisley paintings slated to be exchanged by the German dealer and agent, Gustav Rochlitz, on Goering’s initiative. Those paintings had been swapped in Paris for a painting by Titian, entitled “Portrait of a young lady” on July 9, 1941. Li 56, “Frühlingslandschaft” remained with Gustav Rochlitz who shipped it to his storage facility in Mühlhofen near Meersburg in southern Bavaria along the shores of Lake Constanz. A handwritten note from a postwar Bavarian official confirmed this possibility.



On September 25, 1945, Alfred Lindon submitted a “final list” of works of art plundered from the vault he had rented at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon before the Germans’ arrival in the French capital. Incidentally, he named the Sisley painting “Sous-bois/printemps rose” and Mr. Lindon indicated that it had been acquired at Durand-Ruel.  Hence, when filling out the provenance advertised by Christie’s in November 2008, one could postulate the following:

Camentron, Paris
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above in April 1892)
Alfred Lindon?
Where does that put Mr. Perdoux (acquired from the above, November 1923)?

Could the 1923 Perdoux reference be a falsehood? If, as Mr. Lindon indicates on his inventory of works lost as a result of looting of the family vault at Chase Safe Deposit Company, he had bought the Sisley from Durand-Ruel, this would throw into question the mention of Perdoux in the provenance supplied to Christie’s. This would not be the first time that a provenance contained fictitious or misleading information. One possibility is that Alfred Lindon acquired the Sisley painting in November 1923 and that Yves Perdoux, if it is him, may have been involved in the recycling of the painting during WWII. He worked with various collaborationist art dealers, in particular Raphael Gérard, to whom he had sold numerous looted objects between 1940 and 1944. Anything is possible…

As a result of an exchange policy approved by the ERR and Hermann Goering, modern paintings confiscated from Jewish collectors were offered to French, Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and German art dealers in exchange for Old Masters which could grace the collections of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. Under exchange (Tausch) No. 10 of July 9, 1941, a number of Lindenbaum paintings, including the Sisley painting in question were offered to Gustav Rochlitz in exchange for a Titian painting. According to Rochlitz’s testimony to the Allies after WWII, he shipped the Sisley and many other paintings he had obtained on the Paris art market, to a storage place that he managed at Mühlhofen near Meesburg in southern Bavaria, along the northern shore of Lake Constanz. Rochlitz misrepresented many of his transactions to Allied interrogators. Therefore, it would not be surprising if the Sisley in question had remained in Paris and been sold or consigned for sale with collaborationists like Yves Perdoux or Raphael Gérard.

In sum, the chain of ownership for the Sisley painting was broken on December 5, 1940. Its post-confiscation disappearance on the Paris art market made it impossible for French and Allied officials to recover the painting and return it to the Lindon family. Knowledge of these illicit market activities was not well-known in the postwar years, except by those who engaged in them, those who benefited from them, and some of the victims who investigated the fate of their lost cultural assets. 

The postwar French directory of looted cultural assets  known as Répertoire des biens spoliés (RBS) includes several paintings by Sisley which include the word “printemps” (spring/Frühling), one of the titles ascribed to the painting by Alfred Lindon, which point to two owners, the estate of Mrs. Berthe Propper and Mr. Lindon. A handwritten annotation in the 1947 RBS catalogue points to the fact that the French government’s investigative file on the whereabouts of the painting was closed on August 5, 1961, an administrative procedure indicating that the French government no longer considered the location of the painting as feasible. In these instances, government officials would tell claimants that they should accept instead a compensatory package from the German government for their losses, 16 years after the end of WWII. Whether or not the Lindon family continued to search for the painting is a question that needs an answer.
crossed-out mention of "Le Printemps" in RBS
Works by Alfred Sisley in lost art databases

www.lootedart.com

The database of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) includes three paintings by Sisley with the word “Spring”, none of which are ascribed to Alfred Lindon.

Lostart.de

The database of looted cultural assets which is managed by the German Lost Art Foundation contains 22 paintings by Alfred Sisley, none of which correspond to the Alfred Lindon painting.

Art Loss Register (ALR)

It’s impossible to know what information on the Sisley the London-based Art Loss Register holds since it is a proprietary database. In general, auction houses and art dealers routinely submit to ALR information on objects on consignment for sale in order to identify any potential problems with title. 

Tentative conclusion
Once Alfred Lindon became dispossessed of the painting on December 5, 1940, the painting became a looted work of art subject to restitution which required it to be returned to its rightful owner. Since it was not located at the end of WWII or thereafter, the painting’s postwar itinerary is illegal. Any transfer of title from one possessor  to the next since 1940 was illegal and amounted to resale and possession of stolen property.  Wildenstein & Cie, one-time owner of the Sisley painting, has contributed to the postwar problem surrounding this painting.

An art dealer's responsibility compels him/her to do systematic due diligence on every object which he/she acquires, sells, or borrows. It does not matter if the object is being offered for sale by an auction house or a gallery or a museum or another art dealer or a private individual. That is his/her professional and ethical responsibility. To treat auction houses differently from other market actors is frankly puzzling and illogical.

It is my frank opinion that if Mondex succeeds in bringing Christie's to heel over the Sisley painting, it will not only undermine one of the more successful restitution experiments in the private art market but also raise serious concerns about the actual meaning of restitution of works and objects of art plundered during the Nazi years by reducing it to a mercenary hunt for cash at whatever the cost. That, frankly, is unethical.  I honestly hope that all parties come to their senses and seek some other form of solution which will benefit the Lindon family, first and foremost.

Additional notes

Titles

Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” by Alfred Sisley, painted in 1889, ended up in the possession of Alfred Lindenbaum/Lindon. The painting, before and after its racially-motivated confiscation, has had different titles prior to its purchase in 2008 by Alain Dreyfus:

“Printemps”
“Sous-bois/printemps rose”
“Frühlingslandschaft”
“Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”
“Frühling in Moret”

Markings

Usually, the ERR staff wrote or stenciled on the back of works it confiscated, especially paintings, the alpha-numeric code that they assigned to the items they catalogued at the Jeu de Paume. Those markings would have been the obvious tip-off that the painting had been stolen during the German occupation of Paris. Was the painting restretched, reframed? Were the markings erased?  If so, who would have stripped the painting down of obvious markings left by the ERR?

Sources:

Bundesarchiv, B323/277 Koblenz, Germany
209SUP 2, 209SUP 603, French Foreign Affairs Ministry Archives, La Courneuve, France
RG 260 M1943 Reel 12, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

15 June 2018

"Premier jour de printemps à Moret" by Alfred Sisley--Part One

by Marc Masurovsky

Premier jour de printemps à Moret, by Alfed Sisley
courtesy of Le Monde
On May 25, 2018, a story broke in “L’Alsace”, a regional French newspaper, regarding a notable from Mulhouse, Alain Dreyfus, well-known art dealer and collector who plies his trade across the border in Basel, Switzerland.  According to the Alsatian newspaper, Mr. Dreyfus is all up in arms over a painting by Alfred Sisley, “Premier jour de printemps à Moret,” which the Impressionist artist produced in 1889. Dreyfus acquired it at Christie’s in New York on November 6, 2008, without giving it much thought since, in his own words, “when you go to an auction sale, you don’t check anything because you assume that everything has been checked.” So much for due diligence.

At some point in 2016, according to Mr. Dreyfus as reported in “L’Alsace”, a Toronto-based company, Mondex, contacted him to let him know that the Sisley in question was a looted painting which had once belonged to a French Jewish family by the name of Lindenbaum or Lindon, and that the Nazis had stolen the painting during the German occupation of France. Although dismayed at the news, he informed the Canadians that he would restitute the painting as long as Christie’s reimbursed him for the money spent in 2008 at the New York sale. Through his lawyers, Dreyfus laid out his position: either Christie’s indemnifies the family and he keeps the painting, or he restitutes the painting and Christie’s pays him back.

In 2017, one of the Lindon family heirs contacted Mr. Dreyfus by mail to confirm that he still had the painting. Then, he found out that the Lindon heir turned around and sued Christie’s. Meanwhile, the Swiss police has sequestered the painting until the issue is resolved. Dreyfus has since sent an invoice to the Christie’s office in Zurich for 700,000 euros, although he paid 338,500 dollars for the painting in 2008. His excuse for asking double the price of the painting? Christie’s allegedly pocketed 694 million euros from a recent Rockefeller sale. Hence, his bill represents  the equivalent of pocket change.  Mr. Dreyfus is clearly incensed and fuming, in a way that few art dealers are when faced with a restitution claim resulting from an auction sale.

According to a May 28, 2018, article which appeared in “Le Monde,” the main critique leveled at Christie’s is that it could not have ignored the looted history of the painting since it has an internal section focused on looted art. That critique was leveled by Denis Lindon, 91 year old grandson of the plundered victim, Alfred Lindon.

In a May 31, 2018, article, artnet.com quoted James Palmer of Mondex, who confirmed that the Sisley painting had been confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) “and passed through the hands of Hermann Goering.” As supporting evidence, a document produced by the ERR was reproduced in the artnet piece; that document came from the Database of Art objects that transited through the Jeu de Paume (better known as the ERR database). One might speculate that the information contained in that database validated Mondex’s claim of an act of plunder perpetrated against the Lindenbaum/Lindon family for the painting in question.  Incidentally, the ERR database was not publicly accessible in 2008. Hence, Christie’s could not have consulted it. The few art looting databases in existence at the time would have been short on specifics regarding the Lindon losses or were proprietary databases whose content is impossible to verify for accuracy and reliability.

Mr. Palmer stepped up his attack against Christie’s by stating that “buying from auction houses presents significant risks” going as far as asserting that the “auction house should indemnify” the buyer “if a claim is ever made in the future,” that is to say, if the evidence of theft escaped the research efforts of the auction house prior to sale.  In other words, the behavior of Mr. Dreyfus appears to echo the Mondex stance against Christie’s and, more generally, against all auction houses.

However, Nicholas O’Donnell, an art restitution attorney based in Boston, Massachusetts, countered that there was no indication of any suspicion regarding the painting on the face of the provenance that Christie’s was given for the Sisley work, a view that James Palmer, of Mondex, contests. According to a New York Times report dated June 3, 2018, Palmer notified Monica Dugot, director of restitution at Christie’s that a review of a “directory of looted items published in France in 1947” would have yielded several looted Sisley works with the word “spring” in their title.  The "directory" which Mr. Palmer has alluded to is the "Répertoire des biens spoliés” which can be downloaded from a French government website.

In sum, the fight over the Lindon Sisley painting has turned into an unfortunate mess with an auction house, Christie’s, caught between a determined “art recovery business”, Mondex, an incensed art dealer, Mr. Alain Dreyfus, and a claimant, Mr. Denis Lindon, all convinced that Christie’s did not exercise sufficient due diligence to identify a looted work of art belonging to the Lindon family.

The fact that all guns are pointed at Christie’s in a very complex game of who should have known what and when regarding the flawed ownership history of “Premier jour de printemps à Moret,” by Alfred Sisley, begs for clarification and a more sober examination of the facts.

As the old saw goes, “the facts, nothing but the facts.” In Part II, let’s take a look at the hard facts and ask another set of questions which might put this entire kerfuffle into perspective. Indeed, there is a looted painting that needs to be restituted to the Lindon family. But where did the problem originate and who stands to benefit from this international three-ring circus?

A "Goering bible" with a provenance full of holes

by Marc Masurovsky

In April 2018, a Bible (Tanach) printed in the 1630s in Amsterdam by Menasseh ben Israel, including Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim, and containing 369 “leaves”, sold for 12,300 US dollars, as lot Nr. 133 at Kedem Auction House, in business in Jerusalem since 2008. That sale would be uneventful except for the fact that this particular Bible was removed from the home of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering in the Bavarian Alps by French troops.

According to Kedem, this bible bears an inscription stamp inside it which tells us that the Second [French] Armored Division took possession of this artifact after some of its members “broke into” Goering’s compound near Berchtesgaden in early May 1945. The French inscription carries a date of removal, May 4, 1945. According to Kedem’s proud description of this unique item, Goering’s residence and nearby facilities were looted by Allied soldiers following the departure of the SS. No comment.

The provenance supplied by Kedem indicates the following list of owners:

Dr. J. N. Pellieux, Beaugency, France

Confiscated in 1940

Hermann Goering

With a French pastor attached to the Second Armored Division

Gift to Dr. Rosenfeld, London, by said pastor, 2005

The Israel National News edition of April 11, 2018, informs us that the said French pastor was an Army chaplain working with the Red Cross and that the bible in question had been discovered “in recent days.”

The French Jewish online emagazine, “Alliance,” repeated everything that the Israel National News had indicated about the bible but was kind enough to supply a photograph of the actual item.

According to an April 17, 2018, Times of Israel report on this “Goering Bible”, Dr. J. N. Pellieux was a Jewish doctor from whom the Bible in question was stolen. Unfortunately, the journalist for the Times of Israel dated the German invasion of France to 1945! A "fake news" fact which should have called into question the entire story, no?

It’s arduous to make sense of complex events like cultural plunder.  Nowadays, it goes without saying that journalists--and auctioneers looking for a bang for their buck!--do not spend enough time researching facts in order to help readers understand the twisted details surrounding a looted object’s tortured history which preceded its grateful discovery, in this case, through the art market.

A 60 minute "Google" search adventure yielded the following information:
city hall of Beaugency

1/ Beaugency is a small town in the French “département” of the Loiret which sits southwest of Orléans and 155 kilometers from Paris or a clean two hour drive from Beaugency to the French capital.

2/ How about Dr. J. N. Pellieux? According to a number of Israeli news outlets, Dr. Pellieux was a Jewish doctor. Can that be verified? A quick “Google” search creates more puzzlement than clarity. The Pellieux name is well-known in Beaugency. As far back as the late 18th century, a Mr. Pellieux, ainé, was the town historian. He was also referred to as “docteur Pellieux” being an accomplished medical doctor. Mr. Pellieux published in 1805 an “Essai historique sur la ville de Beaugency et ses environs” which was lauded as a thorough and incisive piece of research.

In fact, Dr. J. N. Pellieux was none other than Dr. Jacques-Nicolas Pellieux (1750-1832), who lived in Beaugency as a distinguished local scholar and notable. One of his achievements was to have partaken in the American War of Independence across the Atlantic Ocean. After the French revolution, Pellieux served for a time as deputy mayor of Beaugency.

In sum, the mystery of the “Goering Bible” remains whole. Dr. Pellieux was not a Jewish doctor. His bible meandered about and most likely ended up in a Jewish collection somewhere between Beaugency and Paris, where the most likely candidate to have plundered it would have been the specialized library looting units of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). There is no other way for Hermann Goering to have gained access to that 17th century bible unless it had come from the ERR.

Last but not least, the Israeli press was apparently unimpressed by the acts of plunder performed, in this instance, by French troops at Goering’s Bavarian dacha. Could it be that our Israeli friends condone plunder by military elements? Or is this another case of “rescue” by Allied forces?

14 June 2018

"Portrait of Mary Robinson," by Joshua Reynolds

by Angelina Giovani
edited by Marc Masurovsky

Mary Robinson was one of the most famous actresses of the 18th century, who left behind a large number of portraits. The culmination of Mary’s fame came after her performance as Perdita, in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which captured the heart of George, Prince of Wales, who fell madly in love with her. Hence, the name Perdita became permanently linked to her own and she came to be known as Mary ‘Perdita” Robinson. Among the many artists who painted her portrait, the most notable is without a doubt Sir Joshua Reynolds. As his diary indicates, the artist made fourteen appointments for the actress to sit for him, resulting in at least five versions of the painting, all very similar to each other in both style and composition, the two main versions mirroring each other and seeming to differ only in the position of the hands or the feathers. The earliest version of the painting, which was purchased by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild, is the one now in the Waddesdon Collection.

A well-established Paris-based French art dealer and collector, René Gimpel, acquired one of Reynolds’ versions of “Portrait of Mary Robinson” and appears to have placed the work in a storage unit at Garde-Meubles Robinot Frères, 86, boulevard Garibaldi, in Paris. During the German occupation of France, after Gimpel had fled to the south of France before being denounced, arrested and deported to Sachsenhausen, the entire content of his “garde-meubles” was confiscated by agents of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), operating under the aegis of the Mobel-Aktion [M-Aktion] agency, responsible for emptying out Jewish-owned apartments and storage units in German-occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The second volume of the Algernon Graves and W. V. Cronin catalogue raisonné of the works of Joshua Reynolds lists five versions of the “Portrait of Mary Robinson” or Mrs. “Perdita” Robinson. Catalogue entry (nr. 832) might be Gimpel’s painting, since the other remaining versions produced by Reynolds can be traced to British and American collections with no noticeable provenance gaps.

Entry Nr. 832 reads:

“ROBINSON, Mrs. Mary; Half length, panel 29 1/2 x 24 1/2 in.; Nearly full faced; large black hat, white feather; dark dress; white lace scarf; red curtain background. Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1883, No. 274, by Colonel W. L. Grant.” The catalogue for the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1883 does not list the full name of Colonel Grant, the 1883 owner, hence it still remains unknown how he acquired it and when he sold it.

The above catalogue description mirrors the one published in the first edition of the Graves and Cronin catalogue raisonné in 1899. At some point between 1970 and 1973, the art historian Ellis Waterhouse, while serving as acting director of the “Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies” in London, edited the Graves & Cronin catalogue with extensive annotations. Waterhouse made comments and corrections to all of the versions of the Portrait of Mrs. Robinson.

Waterhouse noted that the panel “Portrait of Mrs. Robinson” was in the Collection of Pierre Bordeaux-Groult. In the revised edition of the catalogue raisonné which appeared in the late 1980s, entry (nr. 1530) has been corrected as follows:

“Robinson, Mary (1758-1800)
Untraced
On Wood(EKW/G&C)
Provenance: Pierre Bordeaux-Groult, Paris, 1967 (PMC: Waterhouse files); untraced since.”

A review of the Waterhouse files reveals that one of the copies of Mrs. Robinson, attributed to the Studio of Reynolds, was in the collection of E. C. Bacon, Thonak, in 1941. Below that, a note in pencil reads: “The original in Jean Groult Coll. Paris” and it is followed by a year. The file makes no reference to Pierre Bordeaux-Groult. Since the year has been transcribed to be 1967, we might assume that the authors believed it more likely for the work to be with Pierre Bordeaux-Groult, since Jean had passed away in 1951. But a closer examination of the numbers actually suggests that the date could very well be 1917, which makes better sense in relation to the Waterhouse original file.

How and when the painting, if it is the same one, went from Groult to Rene Gimpel is unknown. Meanwhile, Gimpel’s “Portrait of Mary Robinson” has never been found and his heirs still have not recovered it as a WWII Holocaust-related loss.