18 June 2011

MNR (Musées Nationaux Récupération) Notes—R 6 P « Femme au turban, » by Marie Laurencin

R 6 P
Source: Ministère de la culture - Musées Nationaux Récupération
Research always begets more research. It’s a bottomless, endless process. One has to be very strong to say: “Stop!”

Case in point: R 6 P of the MNR series at the French Ministry of Culture, the series that contains those works and objets d’art in the custody of the French government until someone comes by and claims them. Meanwhile, they have been incorporated into France’s State-run collections. Not a bad deal.

R 6 P is actually a painting by Marie Laurencin, which she completed in 1941. It’s called “Femme au turban”. Other documents indicate that it is “Jeune fille au turban” or a “Tête de jeune fille.” The young woman does indeed wear a turban and also a string of rather large pearls.

The painting is currently on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

R 6 P
Source: MCCP Database via Bundesarchiv
For anyone interested in delving deeper into the sordid past of these MNRs, here is some advice. When you read that the “Commission de choix des oeuvres d’art” selected the item on 10 December 1949,” this is what it means: a commission was established by the National Museum Administration of France (Direction des Musées Nationaux) to ferret out works and objets d’art in the Allied zones of occupation of Germany and Austria which could be construed as having been removed from France between June 1940 and the summer and fall of 1944. The word “choix” is critical because it entails selection. Selection for whom? Well, selection for French museums, that’s for whom. We are not discussing repatriation for the sake of restitution. The “Commission de choix” is only interested in picking out items which are “French” so that they can be considered for inclusion in French State collections. Is there a recognizable owner to whom the object could be returned? Apparently, that does not enter into the discussion.

The other item that is of note is a number. In this case the number is 45989. It is referred to as a German number from Munich. Or put more elegantly, it is a number assigned to the object by the people working at the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP) between 1945 and 1950, the main facility in the US zone of occupation in Germany where looted cultural property was sifted, re-organized, examined, and ultimately repatriated to countries from where they had been removed so as to facilitate their restitution. In the case of Marie Laurencin’s “Femme au turban,” the MCCP number coincides with an item matching this painting which entered the MCCP on 13 January 1948.

The MCCP descriptive index card gives very little information as to how the object crossed into the Reich in the first place. We know only of a Mr. Brandl who was forced to bring it to the MCCP “for examination.” There is also an indication that the item had been stored at a depot in Laufen.

The details provided by the French government for R 6 P omit any reference to this Mr. Brandl nor do they seem too concerned as to how the object left France.

R 6 P
Source: MCCP Database via Bundesarchiv
A search on Brandl in the MCCP database reveals that this Mr. Brandl brought to the Collecting Point “for examination” 94 items. One of the Brandl cards relates to a painting by Corot which was confiscated in France by SS-Mann Brandl, a detail that was absent from all other cards where Brandl’s name was mentioned. Not only that but we also find out that there is a Capt. Doubinsky associated with Brandl’s name. Capt. Doubinsky was the deputy of Rose Valland in the French zone of occupation at French military headquarters in Baden-Baden. Hence, after some basic poking around, we do find out some additional useful details about the holder of the cultural objects, including the Marie Laurencin painting. An enterprising uniformed SS soldier who was interrogated by Rose Valland’s deputy, Captain Doubinsky. And yet, we still do not know if these 94 objects, including the Marie Laurencin, were owned by one or more individuals. A clue to that effect is given to us by another card associated with Brandl. Munich Card No. 48804 pertains to a work by an artist named Béatrice How. The purported owner of the piece prior to SS Mann Brandl’s act of confiscation was “Mme. Veuve Lucien Raphael” in Paris. A cursory check tells us that there was a man by the name of Lucien Raphael who was a banker and who died in Paris in July 1943. Of course, there were probably a great many men named Lucien Raphael in Paris, but then again, could this be the same one? At the very least, this item—MCCP 48804—is associated with a previous owner.

Tentative conclusion:

R 6 P was seized or purchased—but most likely seized—by an SS Mann named Brandl at some point before the Germans abandoned Paris to its insurgents, its citizens, and liberating forces led in part by Général Leclerc. SS Mann Brandl also brought home to Germany 93 other items, which included more than a dozen Impressionist works, furniture, objets d’art, and sculptures.

Captain Doubinsky, Rose Valland’s assistant, interrogated him at some point in early 1949, following the summons issued to Brandl to bring his loot to the MCCP “for examination.”

At least one victim was associated with an item in Brandl’s possession.

We do not know how all of this unfolded. But we do know that the family of Lucien Raphael filed claims after the war, obtained restitution of items in 1946 and 1950. The correspondence between Lucien Raphael’s son, Claude, and Rose Valland reveals that many items were still not returned in 1960.

Further research would have to include:
  1. the interrogation of SS Mann Brandl by Captain Doubinsky which might be located in the so-called Baden-Baden archival records of the Rose Valland files at the French ministry of foreign Affairs at the Courneuve, north of Paris.
  2. the restitution files of Veuve Lucien Raphael in the Commission de récupération artistique (CRA) and the restitution files at the Office des Biens et Intérêts Privés (OBIP). All of these can be found at the Courneuve archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Postscript: the fact that Marie Laurencin painted the “Jeune fille au turban” in 1941 is worth noting. She lived the war years in Paris, unmolested.  Although her apartment was requisitioned in spring of 1944, so were many others in the late stages of the occupation of Paris.  Some of her closest friends, including Flora Groult and René Gimpel, professed that she held anti-Semitic views. Although this has nothing to do with the aforementioned issue of R 6 P in the MNR series, it is indicative of the fact that the dominant color of plunder in wartime France is a deep shade of grey, neither black nor white.

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