25 June 2011

Maillol bronze bathing beauty seeks rightful owner

It pays to read everything. As in any criminal investigative case, every stone must be turned over to look for any clue that might help solve a crime. Woe to those who read only what they wish to read and come up with flawed analyses as is so often the case in art restitution matters.

The forensic approach is the most effective, albeit laborious, method by which a plundered object can be reunited with its rightful owner. Or, at the very least, it is the best way to get closest to the historical truth.

Case in point: those myriad objects of art which remain in the custody of the French government under the odd label of "Musées Nationaux Récupération" (MNR). We are grateful to the French Ministry of Culture for having posted a number of these objects on their website under the label “Site Rose Valland-Musées Nationaux Récupération.” The key, however, is to interpret what you see and read.

Source: Site Rose Valland/MNR
And so it is that a bronze statuette entitled "Baigneuse" or "Badende/ Stehende nackte Frau" (description provided by the gentlemen from the ERR at the Jeu de Paume) by Aristide Maillol is not as lost as it may appear to be. Assigned the glib label “Rec 3 S ; R 3 ; RF 3250” the French Ministry of Culture has stripped this statue of its history. Simply put, it has no ownership history. However, its postwar life has been nothing short of glorious, having been displayed across three continents. Suffice it to say that a stolen cultural object was put on display courtesy of the French government in the following cities from 1950 to 1994: Toulouse, Valenciennes, Dijon, Besançon, Reims, Charleroi (Belgium), Ixelles, Tournai, Luxembourg, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Tokyo, Moscow, Leningrad/St-Petersburg, Shanghai, Antibes, Lyon, New York, Dallas, Saint-Tropez, and Mexico. Amazing how plundered objects travel…

The rightful owner of this statue is Marcel Kapferer. The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) stole it from his apartment in Paris in February 1944 together with 30 other works and objects. The statuette was shipped on 5 May 1944 to Nikolsburg in the former Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. The Germans transferred it with many other looted cultural assets to a depot in Austria, most likely at Altaussee where US forces found it. It arrived in Munich on 3 November 1945 and was labeled 13741/3 until its repatriation to France a year later.

Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

If you follow the logic of the German documentation, this statuette, labeled KPR 9, was repatriated to France on 30 October 1946 from the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP). Hence, no need to worry, right? Wrong!

Source: ERR Project via NARA
According to Marcel Kapferer’s French restitution file, he recovered many other objects, including four Maillol bronze statuettes. On closer analysis, the French records do not concord with the German inventory of objects plundered from Kapferer’s home. Indeed, the French indicate KPR 10, KRP 12, KPR 19 and one statuette with no number (sans Nr.) as having been returned to Kapferer. The German records confirm that KPR 10 and KPR 12 are indeed Maillol statuettes. However, KPR 19 is a Ming period Chinese statuette of a priest. The numberless Maillol statuette is most likely KPR 11. In other words, it appears that the French authorities mislabeled one of the items that it returned to Kapferer by mistaking a Chinese Ming statuette for a piece by Aristide Maillol.

For those who remain skeptical that this item might have been restituted to Marcel Kapferer, a photographic comparison of the object in the MNR database with the photos taken by the ERR indicates that we might be dealing with the same object. You be the judge!

MCCP 13741/4
Source: MCCP Database via Bundesarchiv

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