08 August 2018

MoMA's dalliances with the two portraits of Max Hermann Neisse by Georg Grosz


by Marc Masurovsky


 "Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse", by Georg Grosz, 1925

In April 2009, the heirs of the German expressionist artist, Georg Grosz, filed an art restitution lawsuit against the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, claiming that three paintings by Grosz held in MoMA's collection since the 1950s rightfully belonged to Georg Grosz and his heirs. The outcome of the suit yielded no restitution to the Grosz family despite an offer by MoMA to share the paintings in a co-ownership deal.

A German-born art dealer named Curt Valentin had sold to MoMA one of those paintings, Grosz’s “Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse”, in 1952; this was the second version dated 1927, which Grosz had produced of the celebrated Polish-born German writer, Max Hermann Neisse.

However, as early as 1948, Alfred Barr, the iconic director of MoMA at the time of the 1952 purchase, had had his eyes on the first version that Grosz had painted in 1925 of Max Hermann Neisse. That painting had graced the walls of the Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany, until the Nazi government ordered its de-accession as a “degenerate [entartete]” painting which National Socialist aesthetic principles. After its de-accession, the Mannheim painting of Max Hermann Neisse was eventually sold in the late 1930s to Kurt Sachs, a private collector from Hamburg.Barr wrote about the 1925 Grosz portrait to Theodore Heinrich, then chief of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point in Germany, a trained art historian who eventually went on to lead several museums in the United States and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Barr had been tipped off of its existence by Charles Parkhurst, another American cultural advisor with US forces in Germany, also referred to as a “monuments man”. Parkhurst had informed Heinrich on February 4, 1948, that Barr would write to him about “a painting for sale formerly in the Kunsthalle, Mannheim.” Apparently, the go-between offering the painting was an “American bookseller” based in Paris, France. This bookseller swore up and down to Barr that the provenance of the Grosz painting was above reproach. [Editor's note: this bookseller might be none other than Heinz Berggruen, who had opened a bookshop on the Left Bank Paris right after its liberation in late August 1944. He had extensive art dealing contacts in Germany and traveled regularly between Paris and the US zone of occupation.].


Barr, on the other hand, indicated to Heinrich that “we would like very much to have this picture in the Collection [of MoMA ] but don’t want to buy anything of which the ownership is not entirely certain.”
Barr to Heinrich, February 9, 1948
Heinrich chose not to reply to Barr in writing but instead met with him in New York on February 27, 1948, at which time he gave him his opinion about this possible acquisition.
 Note by Heinrich about Mannheim Grosz painting

The main concern that Barr had regarding the Mannheim Grosz portrait was that the Mannheim Kunsthalle was aggressively seeking the restitution of the 584 works that it had been forced to de-accession during the Nazi years. Each Western zone of occupation of Germany---French, British, and American—had adopted a different stance regarding the recognition of German museums’ ability to recover their ‘de-accessioned’ properties. According to Heinrich, the Americans had not put forth an official position for or against such claims by German museums, although they ended up ruling in favor of the Nazi de-accession laws, thus striking down with one fell swoop any hope for German museums in their jurisdiction to recover de-accessioned works. However, the French had reacted favorably to Mannheim’s claim for a painting found in private hands in their zone of occupation, thus encouraging the director of the Mannheim Kunsthalle to pursue other claims in the Western Allied zones of occupation of Germany. On the other hand, German art dealers were displeased at the behavior of the German museums whose claims for de-accessioned “degenerate works” were impeding their chance of selling them on behalf of private art collectors like Kurt Sachs who had acquired them after museums had been forced to disgorge them.

In August 1949, Barr offered to buy the painting and resell it to Mannheim "at cost". He sympathized with Mannheim's year-long battle to recover the painting from Sachs and his dealer, Ernst Hauswedell.
Barr to Heinrich, August 19, 1949

Hauswedell argued virulently against Mannheim's claim in a letter to Barr dated September 26, 1949, where he derided the museum’s claim.
Hauswedell to Barr, September 1949

In the end, Mannheim succeeded in reintegrating the Grosz portrait in its permanent collection after having lost it to Nazi cultural policies in 1938. Whether or not this recovery resulted from Barr's intercession is not known.

Three years later, Barr settled on the second version of “Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse” by Georg Grosz, a decision that came back to haunt MoMA 50 years later.


Archival sources: 

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Theodore Heinrich Records, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

A 1902 painting by Paul Signac


by Marc Masurovsky
Auxerre, le Canal, Juin 1902, by Paul Signac
reproduced by Artcurial

On December 2, 2013, a painting by Paul Signac, “Auxerre, le Canal, Juin 1902,” was auctioned at Artcurial in Paris, France. It fetched more than 600,000 euros.

Nothing special about this sale.

The provenance of the painting indicates that it had been offered for sale in Weimar in 1903, hence a year after it was painted. Then it remained in a “private collection” until it resurfaced nearly 100 years later at a sale at Artcurial Briest in 2002.

A gap in the history of a post-impressionist work stretching over one hundred years is always something to behold. It’s impossible to know where it went during all that time, but one thing is certain. This Signac work was produced in France, left for Weimar, remained in Germany for an unknown period of time, two world wars ensued before it reemerged in 2002. It fell completely out of sight since its exhibition history echoes this centennial gap.

And then, one finds the most innocuous information in far away archives that may or may not illuminate the history of a work. In this case, a document buried in an archive at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, amongst the papers of Theodore Heinrich, a Canadian-born American citizen trained as an art historian who became one of several hundred cultural advisors to the American army in the years following the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe in 1944-1945. He went on to run the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point in Bavaria, the temporary home for thousands of works of art belonging to German State museums, and to an even more spectacular number of Jewish ritual objects as well as a host of German private collections including a portion of the collection of Hildebrand Gurlitt.

Heinrich was a consummate art collector. In fact, no sooner had he arrived in liberated Paris on the heels of the US invading force that he began to amass what became a significant collection of works on paper spanning three hundred years from the 17th century to the 20th century. He fancied French, Italian, and German masters and cultivated relationships with booksellers and art dealers across Western Europe. During his five year stay as a US Army cultural advisor (so-called “Monuments Man”), Heinrich acquired several hundred works from private dealers in France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy, regardless of the origin of the works, oblivious to their provenance in the aftermath of one of the worst acts of cultural plunder perpetrated by one nation-Nazi Germany--over those it conquered, annexed, occupied or was allied to.  Those works and many other items were auctioned off after his death in the early 1980s.

On July 25, 1949, Galerie Bremer, based in Berlin, Wilmersdorf, wrote to “Dr. Heinrichs”,  thinking that Theodore Heinrich was familiar with an “American committee” operating in the US Zone of occupation consisting of art dealers and museum officials from the United States who were interesting in “buying valuable paintings for American museums.”  No proof exists that such a committee ever existed, but there is ample evidence that representatives of the American art trade were busy trolling for business opportunities in liberated Germany.


One of the paintings offered by Galerie Bremer was signed by Paul Signac, and entitled “Kanal bei Auxerre, 1902”. That painting's measurements—46 x 57 cm—are very similar to those of the Signac sold at Artcurial in 2013—46 x 55 cm. If it is the same painting, we can deduce that it was consigned to a Berlin gallery in the immediate post-1945 period. How it got there, how long it remained in Germany, remains a mystery. The Signac catalogue raisonné apparently does not enhance our knowledge of this work's past history since it is cited in the 2013 Artcurial sale.



03 August 2018

New and enhanced version of the Washington Principles, starting in December 2018 (wishful thinking)

by Marc Masurovsky

Proposal for a modified and enhanced version of the Washington Principles to be enacted in commemoration of their 20th anniversary in December 2018 or soon thereafter,

Principle #1
Artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945, and not subsequently restituted shall be identified.
Principle #2
All records and archives must be declassified, open and accessible to researchers, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Council on Archives, EU directives and other relevant legal and diplomatic instrumentalities.
Principle #3
Resources and personnel shall be made available to facilitate the identification of all artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.
Principle #4
In establishing that a cultural, artistic and/or ritual object has been confiscated, misappropriated, been subject to a forced sale and/or other form of act of illicit dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted, every diligent effort shall be made to produce as complete a provenance as possible by filling gaps and resolving ambiguities produced and/or facilitated by a context of racial persecution, warfare, and genocide during the entire period of the Third Reich and throughout Axis-controlled Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Principle #5
In order to facilitate the location of pre-1933 owners and/or their heirs, every effort shall be made to draw up and disseminate to as wide a public as possible all information regarding artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Principle #6
Efforts shall be made to establish a central, fully searchable and interactive digital repository of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and their Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Principle #7
Pre-1933 owners and their heirs must be encouraged to submit their claims for artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Principle #8
If the pre-1933 owners of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted, or their heirs, are identified, steps will be taken expeditiously to initiate restitution proceedings or any other solution deemed just and fair by all parties concerned, according to the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific case. In each and every case, the interests of the claimants will be placed on an equal footing with those of the current possessors.

Principle #9
If the pre-1933 owners of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 that are found to have been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted, or their heirs, cannot be identified, processes shall be put into place with all stakeholders so as to find an equitable solution as to how to treat these objects with due consideration to their artistic relevance and to their individual history.
Principle #10
Commissions or other bodies shall be established to assist in addressing ownership issues for unrestituted artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945; these commissions or other bodies shall have a balanced membership consisting of, but not limited to, members of the art trade, civil servants, current possessors, claimants and their representatives, historians and specialists.
Principle #11
Nations shall enact directives, laws and decrees as appropriate to implement these principles, particularly as they relate to the resolution of ownership issues.



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