30 April 2023

Cornelius "Kor" Postma (Part Two)

by Claudia Hofstee

Note: This is the second of a two-part essay by Claudia Hofstee. Part One addresses Postma’s life story and Part Two is a detailed look at his involvement with looted art, especially with the Adolphe Schloss Collection.

Cornelius “Kor” Postma (1903-1977) moved to France in 1939 in search of better opportunities as a Surrealist painter. After the Germans invaded France in May-June 1940, he established professional ties with members of the pro-Nazi Vichy government like Jean-François Lefranc, who orchestrated the seizure of the Adolphe Schloss Collection, an internationally known collection of Old Master paintings assembled by Adolphe Schloss (1842-1910). Lefranc was an advisor to Darquier de Pellepoix (1897-1980), Commissioner-General for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ) under the Vichy Régime, and partnered with Bruno Lohse (1911-2007) a German art historian and dealer who served as Göring’s representative while deputy director of the ERR in Paris between 1941 and 1944.

The Schloss Collection was stored for safekeeping in August 1939 at the Château de Chambon in Laguenne south of Limoges (France). After its discovery in winter 1943, Vichy officials and German security agents confiscated the paintings on 16 April 1943. Postma provided the appraisal for the collection after its arrival and dispersal in Paris as an associate of Lefranc in the dismemberment and recycling of the Schloss Collection. Postma received 2,066,830 francs for his appraisal services. Lefranc received 10 million francs for his involvement with the seizure and dispersal of the Schloss Collection. The Louvre used its right of preemption on 49 of the confiscated Schloss paintings to build up its Dutch and Flemish rooms. Lefranc allegedly sold 22 of the Schloss paintings in late 1943 to a Dutch dealer known as Buitenweg, allegedly based in Amsterdam. Although Postma testified that he had met with Buitenweg in Paris, there is no evidence that this man ever existed. The prevailing theory is that Buitenweg was an alias for Lefranc. Why Buitenweg? The name Buitenweg may be a pun referring to a Dutch seventeenth century painter, Willem Buytewech I (1591/92-1624), who was based in Haarlem and Rotterdam. The painter was known by his contemporaries as gheestige Willem (Jolly William).

Postma consigned one of the 22 "Buitenweg paintings" by the Italian painter Giovanni Battista di l'Ortolano, Christ déposé de la croix with Galerie Claude, who then put it up for auction for him at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. Another painting by Rubens, Paysage par un temps d'orage was sold for 60,000 Reichsmarks by Postma in June 1944 to Franz Rademacher (1899-1987), assistant director for the Landesmuseum in Bonn since 1936. The painting joined the collection of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn. After the war, Rademacher handed the painting over to the French zonal authorities at Baden-Baden. The painting was restituted to the Schloss family in 1951 and auctioned off at Galerie Charpentier in Paris on 5 December 1951. Through the British art market, it ended up eventually at the National Gallery of Canada in 1998 (inv. no. 39709). Although Postma initially denied his involvement in the sale of the painting to Rademacher, a letter dated 29 June 1944 by Rademacher to German art historian Eduard Plietzsch (1886-1961) about the authentication of the artwork confirms Postma’s involvement.

Postma admitted to Allied interrogators that he had sold a Brouwer painting, Le Pouilleux, which depicts a man killing a louse, to Henri Verne (1880-1949), a one-time director of the Louvre for the imposing sum of 300,000 francs. The picture was listed for only 100 francs by René Claude Catroux who had provided Lefranc with a separate appraisal of the Schloss Collection in November 1943. Verne acquired the painting for Étienne Marie Louis Nicolas (1870-1960), a wealthy businessman based in Paris.

According to Elisabeth Furtwängler and Mattes Lammert, Postma was involved with another Buitenweg picture: a panel attributed to Philip de Koninck, Paysage. Postma sold the picture to the Berlin-based dealer and auctioneer Hans W. Lange (1904-1945) who then sold it on 12 August 1944 for 16,000 Reichsmarks to the Bomann Museum in Celle (Germany). Albert Neukirch (1884-1963) headed the museum from 1923 to 1949. Postma facilitated an export license to send two Liotard paintings to Lange. The picture was attributed to Philip de Koninck until the time of the confiscation of the Schloss Collection, but it was exported as a painting by Jan van Kessel.

Stormy landscape, by Jan van Kessel

One wonders when the reattribution took place, on whose orders -- Postma or somebody else?-- and for what reasons. In February 1946, the painting appeared on a list of works of art acquired by the Bomann Museum and the city of Celle since 1939. However, a British Monument Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) officer, George Willmont (1907-1977), did not make the link between that painting and the Schloss Collection owing to its reattribution. Currently, the painting is still at the Bomann Museum. Since 2016, the museum has conducted extensive provenance research on their collection. 

In a 1946 letter sent by Postma to Albert Henraux (1881-1953), President of the CRA (Commission de Récupération Artistique), the French restitution agency, he argued that the paintings he sold came from his own collection stored in Switzerland before WWII and thus they could not have been looted. And this, despite his wartime track record. One of these paintings that he mentioned was a Guardi for which Postma arranged an export license in August 1944, intended for the German gallery Gerstenberger in Chemnitz. Moreover, Allied interrogators accused Postma of using Old Masters as payment for modern works. These exchanges may have taken place with the ERR. It is not known, however, from which collections (Jewish or not) these works came. It would be worth knowing if some of these paintings came from the Simon Bauer Collection that Lefranc, Postma’s partner in crime, had plundered. In October 1943, the Anti-Jewish commission (CGQJ) had appointed Lefranc as the administrator of the Bauer Collection.

In conclusion, we still know very little about the wartime activities of the Dutch surrealist painter, Cornelius “Kor” Postma. As of today, the majority of the 22 “Buitenweg/Lefranc pictures” are still missing. Every detail about their provenance is crucial to know who, through whom, how and when the paintings were sold after the seizure of the Schloss Collection in April 1943. Postma’s shadow looms large over the fate of these works.


Archives du Ministère de l’Europe et des affaires étrangères (AMAE), La Courneuve, France
209SUP_147_118: Bauer/Schloss/Buitenweg investigation Report Summary
209SUP_406_P48: Cornelius Postma
209SUP_480_P184: Undated pages from investigation report into Lefranc and Buitenweg
209SUP_482_P66 : 1945-1946 Postma file
209SUP_482_P67 1944-1946 Export issues re Postma
209SUP_482_P166 : Cornelius Postma
209SUP_482_P167: Interrogatoire Hermann Voss
209SUP_586_R45: List of 22 paintings for Lefranc/Buitenweg

Archives Nationales (AN), Pierrefitte, France
AN, 20144657/6, 06 July 1944, n. fol.

Published Sources

Galerie Charpentier, Catalogue de la deuxième vente de tableaux anciens de la collection de feu m. Adolphe Schloss, Paris, 1951, (lot 47).

Elisabeth Furtwängler and Mattes Lammert, Kunst und Profit: Museen und der französische Kunstmarkt im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 2022.

C. M. Galler and J. Meiners, Regionaler Kunsthandel – Eine Herausforderung für die Provenienzforschung?!, 2022.

J. Meiners and C. M. Galler, NS-Kunstraub lokal und europäisch: Eine Zwischenbilanz der Provenienzforschung in Celle (Celler Beiträge zur Landes- und Kulturgeschichte: Schriftenreihe des Stadtarchivs und des Bomann Museums), 2018.

16 April 2023

Cornelius "Kor" Postma (Part One)

by Claudia Hofstee

Note: This is a two-part essay by Claudia Hofstee. Part One addresses Postma’s life story and Part Two is a detailed look at his involvement with looted art, especially with the Adolphe Schloss Collection.

Cornelis "Kor" Johannes Postma (1903-1977) was a Dutch surrealist painter who participated in the valuation and sale of Nazi-looted art during the German occupation in Paris. During WWII, he served as an expert for the German and French authorities. His involvement is well known with the valuation of the Adolphe Schloss Collection that he performed for the German and French authorities. The full extent of his wartime role in acquiring and selling looted artworks from French collections to German clients is still not clear.

Cornelis Postma was the son of Gerardhus Postma and Joanna van Doorn. He grew up in Hilversum (Netherlands). In 1923, Postma taught himself how to paint close to his hometown, in Laren. Later on, he received art lessons from the Flemish expressionist painters from Joseph Coutré and Gustaaf De Smet (1877-1943). The latter lived in the Netherlands from 1914-1922, He was also a pupil of Dutch artist Willy Schoonhoven van Beurden (1883-1963).

On 21 April 1926, Postma married a Jewish theater actress, Betsy Booleman (1901-1997). The wedding was held in Amsterdam.  A daughter, Heddy Ly Postma (1929-2017), was born three years later. While in Amsterdam, Postma worked for art dealer Pieter de Boer. In the 1930s, he collaborated in group shows with artists like Carel Willink (1900-1983) and Pycke Koch (1901-1991). However, due to disappointments in his career, Postma moved to Paris in 1939 where he worked as an artist until the onset of the German occupation in June 1940.

During WWII, Postma lived in a small family guesthouse at the Hôtel de Nice at 4bis, rue des Beaux-Arts (Paris). The street was known for its many galleries, bookstores, publishers and artists' homes. Postma changed gears and participated in the booming wartime Parisian art market. He befriended some notorious individuals such as art dealer Jean-François Lefranc, responsible for aryanizing Jewish-owned galleries and businesses in and around Paris. Lefranc was a close advisor to Louis Darquier de Pellepoix (1897-1980), Commissioner General for Jewish Affairs under the Vichy regime (1942-1944). Lefranc introduced him to Dr. Bruno Lohse (1911-2007), a Nazi art historian who served as deputy director of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in France and coordinated anti-Jewish plunder for the ERR. He also met Kurt von Behr (1890-1945), Lohse’s superior at the ERR who supervised the ransacking of Jewish residences from 1942 to 1944 (M-Aktion). Postma’s knowledge of Dutch art and the Dutch art market made him an asset in Lohse’s network of French, German and other informants who persecuted Jewish collectors and dealers.  

Postma’s clients included art dealers like Munich-based Maria Almas-Dietrich (1892-1971) and Berlin-based Hans W. Lange (1904-1945)  to whom he sold a number of looted works. Lange used Postma to facilitate the export of paintings from France to Germany.  In July 1944, Postma exported three paintings; a landscape by the 17th century Dutch artist Jan van Kessel and two pictures by French artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-789), Still life with pitcher and glasses (whose attribution was questioned) and Still life: Tea Set, which is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. 
Still Life: Tea Set, by Jean-Etienne Liotard

Still life: Tea Set was consigned to multiple French galleries for which Postma acted as a go-between with the actual seller. Michel Martin (1905-2003) curator at the Musée du Louvre, denied Postma his application for an export license for the Liotard painting mostly because the Louvre was keen on acquiring an important Liotard painting. This rejection of the export license illustrates one way by which French museums exercised their pre-emption right in the 1940s – a right granted to them by the Export Law of 1941. Despite Martin’s opposition, the painting left France in July 1944. Furthermore, Postma dealt occasionally with German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956), well-known art expert who had acquired thousands of works of art in occupied territories of Western Europe, mostly in France. 

After the war, Postma remained in Paris where he married his second wife, the Dutch artist Pieternella Wilhelmina (Lili) Bosman van Leer (1905-1966). Her first husband (1941-1949) was Oscar van Leer (1914-1996), a successful entrepreneur. Postma may have met Bosman through Oscar van Leer since Postma was acquainted with van Leer since the 1930s. This connection proved beneficial to Postma's postwar career especially since Van Leer had developed social ties with Princess Beatrix (1938-), crown princess of the Netherlands, and her husband Prince Claus (1926-2002), while organizing gatherings for artist and writers at their estate of Castle Drakensteyn. In the 1970s, Postma gave drawing lessons to Princess Beatrix's children: Willem-Alexander (1967-), Friso (1968-2013) and Constantijn (1969-).

Postma and Lili Bosman regularly had opportunities to hold joint exhibits in Paris as with Galerie Kleinberger in 1951. Postma also enjoyed solo shows at Galerie Vendôme in 1957 and 1958.



NARA RG 239 M1782 roll M1782_10F1
NARA RG 239 M1944 rolls 22, 44, 47, 52, 95
NARA RG 260 M1941 roll 19
NARA RG 260 M1949 roll 6

Archives Nationales (AN), Pierrefitte, France
AN, 20144657/6, 06 July 1944, n. fol.
Z/NL 381, 8841 (C), 379, Postma

Archives du Ministère de l’Europe et des affaires étrangères (AMAE), La Courneuve, France
Séries 370-555 Série P: archives de provenance diverse
209SUP/406: Cornelius Postma
209SUP406p48: Cornelius Postma
209SUP/482 P166 : Cornelius Postma
209SUP/482 P167: Interrogatoire Hermann Voss

Stadsarchief Amsterdam, 30561: Archief van Oscar van Leer 1920 – 2003

Noord-Hollands Archief, 358.6 burgerlijke stand van de gemeente Amsterdam, inv. nr. 2858, aktenr. Reg. 2A fol. 50v; inv. nr. 3105, aktenr. Reg. 1B fol. 46v

Published sources:

Elisabeth Furtwängler and Mattes Lammert, Kunst und Profit: Museen und der französische Kunstmarkt im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 2022

Vanessa von Kolpinski, ‘Art Transfers from France During and After the Occupation: On Export Regulation as a Protective Measure and Resulting Source Material’, Arts et politiques, 2022: 138-155]
-self-taught Postma

P.M. J. E. Jacobs, Beeldend Benelux: Biografisch handboek, vol. 4, Tilburg 2000, p. 668.

Jean-Étienne Liotard, Still-life: Tea Set, c. 1781-83, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. no 84.PA57. 


18 December 2022

Maison Bulgari and the Nazis

Maison Bulgari, Rome

by Marc Masurovsky

Why would a high-end luxury goods business like Bulgari become a target of Allied investigations during WWII? That honor resulted from a convergence of seemingly isolated factors when, brought together, created a pattern of behavior extending internationally and involving businessmen, art agents, Nazi officials, and a possible Jewish victim of plunder. The end result was a suspicion that Bulgari would allow itself to be used as a conduit and enabler of Nazi attempts to secrete assets overseas in places where they could technically be invested in ventures meant to subvert the post-1945 world.

In 1941, US officials questioned Achille Colombo after his arrival in New York from Italy via Buenos Aires, Argentina. The circuitous journey lasted seven months from March to October 1940. Colombo had with him two platinum, diamond and ruby rings worth 47,000 dollars (1945 value). He told US officials that he had acquired them from Bulgari in Italy, several years prior. They were to be delivered to Henri Untermans, Bulgari’s representative in New York.

Henri Untermans
Colombo had a bank account at Banco de Provincia in Buenos Aires. They suspected Colombo of acting as a channel to sell assets “removed from Italy.” While Colombo was on his long and circuitous trek to New York, the Bulgari House opened its Lugano store from which it would transact in high-end and high-value objects. A financial investigation into Colombo’s business dealings revealed a three-way transaction involving the rings between Constantine G. Bulgari in Lugano, Banco de Provincia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Chase National Bank in New York City. The transaction was worth 47,000 dollars, the exact value of the rings in Colombo’s possession.

Eberhard von Mackensen

Constantino-Giorgio Bulgari and his partner, Giorgio-Leonido Bulgari, both Greek-born, owned The House of Sotirio Bulgari. Based in Rome, the Bulgaris were able to avoid restrictive measures imposed by Fascist authorities on Greeks residing in Fascist Italy. They hobnobbed with Eberhardt von Mackensen, the German Ambassador in Rome, with whom they were often in daily contact. One of the Bulgaris even met in Zurich with the Baron Kurt von Behr, senior official of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in German-occupied Paris. He acted as Hermann Goering’s emissary to explore possible ways of laundering plundered diamonds valued at 7 million Swiss francs, once the property of Louis Arscher, a Parisian jeweler.

To spice things up a bit, Giacomo Laurenti, Bulgari’s lawyer in Lugano and honorary Greek consul, was allegedly implicated in trafficking precious stones from across Europe. Some jewels and stones that he had shipped to the Americas were seized in Bermuda by British blockade officials. When US diplomats stationed in Switzerland questioned Laurenti about his work for Bulgari, he stated that he acted as a “mail drop” for them so that they could communicate with “persons outside Axis territory.” Laurenti was not alone: Benno Geiger, a Venetian art dealer of German ancestry, did Goering’s bidding as a go-between to acquire old silver and other luxury objects from Bulgari to the tune of nine million lira (1945 value).

Primary Sources:

Safehaven Report, Maison Sotirio Bulgari, Rome, Italy, Despatch No. 11823 from US Embassy in Berne, 1 June 1945, 850.3 series, RG 153 M 1933 Reel 2 NARA.

Looted Art in Occupied Territories, Neutral Countries and Latin America, Foreign Economic Admnistration revised report, August 1945, pp. 24-5., RG 239 M 1944 Reel 9, NARA.

Photo credits:

Bulgari, Rome

Henri Untermans
c/o Sousa Mendes Foundation

Eberhard von Mackensen

05 December 2022

The disappearance of Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man

Portrait of a Young Man

by Marc Masurovsky

What happened to Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man which belongs to the world-renown collection of the Krakow-based Czartoryski family? The now-iconic painting (the poster child for WWII plundered “treasures”) pulled off a world-class vanishing act in the early days of May 1945 as US troops closed in on the South Bavarian compound of Hans Frank, Governor-General of German-occupied Poland.

The Czartoryski family, one of the flowers of Polish nobility, owned palatial residences and estates in Krakow, Goluchów and Sieniawa (Poland). Since 1893, the Goluchów Castle served as a Museum of the Czartoryski collection. Many of the family’s artistic possessions were stored and displayed there. They included close to 5000 art objects and antiquities as well as several hundred Old Master paintings. The bulk of the collection was transferred to Sieniawa for protection. Soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, German troops reached the Czartoryski estates and seized their contents. To make matters worse, a local mason had betrayed the location of the hidden Czartoryski “treasury.”

Hans Frank

In October 1939, Kajetan Mühlmann, who had played a major role in the plunder of cultural treasures in German-occupied Poland, brought to Berlin choice pieces from the confiscated Czartoryski collection—works by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. In late November, at Martin Bormann’s urging, Hans Posse, the director of Hitler’s Linz museum project, requested the transfer of the best pieces from the Czartoryski collection to the Linz museum. It fell on deaf ears. The paintings returned to Krakow only to be shipped back to Berlin in 1942, this time on orders from Field Marshal Hermann Goering. However, the Nazis, fearing for the safety of the works due to Allied bombardments, opted to send the works back to Krakow, where they were stored at the Wawel Castle. 

Wawel Castle, Krakow

From August 1944 to January 1945, in the face of an imminent offensive by the Soviet Red Army, a gradual evacuation began of Hans Frank’s Krakow HQ and the many plundered art objects and paintings under his control. The main evacuation point was the estate of Count Manfred von Richtofen in Seichau (Sichów), Silesia, which the Auswärtiges Amt [German Foreign Office] had requisitioned for use by Hans Frank, his staff and the German Army. At the outset, a small number of Frank’s aides had appeared at Seichau (Sichów). It was not until the surrender of Krakow that the largest contingents overtook von Richtofen’s castle. He confirmed that Frank and his top aides had remained in the main house for only a few days until their “sudden” departure on 23 January 1945. In other words, Frank did not reach Seichau (Sichów) until mid-January 1945. 

Seichau Castle, Silesia
A German official by the name of Gross indicated that in the months following the requisition of von Richtofen’s estate, there was a continual movement of “lorries” which carried ‘objets d’art’ as well as“foodstuffs and large quantities of alcohol.” He noted that, after the departure of the Frank party on 23 January 1945, the rooms that they had occupied at Seichau (Sichów) were in “complete chaos,” a statement confirmed by Fraulein Liselotte Freund of Seichau Castle. (Gross and Liselotte Freund supplied separate statements to an SS investigative officer on 2 February 1945).

Frau von Wietersheim’s Muhrau estate, 14 km from Seichau, served as a secondary evacuation point. Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux, Hans Frank’s chief of the ‘Referat für Kunst’ (Art Section) and Eduard Kneisel, an Austrian-born restorer, were responsible for ensuring the safety of the plundered treasures from the Czartoryski and other noble Polish collections. They watched over the thousands of art works and objects in their custody at both estates.

It took the greater part of a month for the various convoys carrying Hans Frank and his many staff members to reach Neuhaus am Schliersee in southern Bavaria where Hans Frank had an estate. Neuhaus am Schliersee became the final destination for the Polish looted cultural treasures under Frank’s control, including those that belonged to the Czartoryskis. On 17 February 1945, Hans Frank informed Dr. Lammers, chief of the Reich Chancellery, that the last convoys had reached Neuhaus.

According to London-based Count Zamoyski, one of the heirs to the Czartoryski estate, the Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael was stored at a villa serving as a residence for Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux in the immediate vicinity of Hans Frank’s compound. Eduard Kneisel confirmed this fact in subsequent years and testified that he had not conducted any restoration work on the painting but that it had been removed from its massive crate.

The “vanishing”

In the first week of May 1945, American military units converged on the Bavarian compound of Hans Frank at Neuhaus am Schliersee. They searched Frank’s office in the “Bergfrieden” chalet, which was near the “Schoberhof”, his main residence. According to an American miliary investigative report, the troops conducted only a superficial search of the “Schoberhof.” The MFAA took nearly a year to file a report on the circumstances surrounding Hans Frank’s capture and the disappearance of the Raphael. The report acknowledged that US troops had not conducted an extensive search of the “Schoberhof.”

On 4-5 May 1945, American troops located and arrested Hans Frank as he tried to escape with members of this retinue. Frank made a failed attempt at suicide on 6 May 1945. US troops recovered most of Hans Frank’s loot. However, the Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael vanished into thin air either right before the arrival of American troops or under their very noses while they were overtaking Neuhaus. It’s anyone’s guess where the painting is currently stashed. 

Primary sources:

Document 3614-PS, Evacuation of Cracow, UConn Archives and Special Collections

Frank to Lammers, Document 3614-PS, Office of US Chief Counsel, IMT

undated letter from Count von Richtofen to an Ortsgruppenleiter of the NSV [National Socialist Welfare Organization]

"The loot from Poland," unsigned summary. RG 59, Lot 62D-4, Ardelia Hall Collection, Box 9, NARA.

Ardelia Hall to Count Zamoyski, 15 December 1960, Lot 62D-4 Ardelia Hall Collection, Box 13, NARA.

Walther Bader interrogation by Edgar Breitenbach and Dr. Roethel, 24 June 1947, RG 260 Prop. Div., Ardelia Hall, MCCP, Box 479, NARA.

RG 239 M1944 Reel 127 NARA. 

Photo credits

Hans Frank

Kajetan Mühlmann

Wawel castle