21 July 2011

ERR database–Robert Schumann aka Robert Schuhmann

If the records of the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) are to be believed, the ERR stole only one item from Robert Schumann’s Parisian apartment—an Aubusson tapestry produced under Louis XVI.

Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
The Répertoire des Biens Spoliés en France, that postwar monument to wartime cultural plunder under German occupation, a masterpiece of understatement, records only one item under Robert Schumann’s name—an Aubusson tapestry.

All is good. The stars are aligned. Mr. Schumann recovered his tapestry on 7 November 1947 after it was found at the ERR depot of Buxheim.

Here is where it gets complicated:

Robert Schumann informed the French government’s restitution commission—the Commission de récupération artistique (CRA)—that he had lost not only his Aubusson tapestry but also the following items:
  • a Steinway piano bearing the registration number 118 524,
  • a collection of 474 prints and etchings signed by Félicien Rops, as well as watercolors and drawings signed by Rops,
    Felicien Rops
    Source: ardennes-etapes.com
  • a collection of 12 Renaissance period Swiss stained glass,
  • assorted antique porcelain and high-end textiles (lampas, brocades, and the like).
We all know that life is unfair and postwar officials did the best they could with the information and resources that they had in hand.

Nevertheless, the French government opted not to list 474 works signed by Félicien Rops despite the fact that there is a section in the Répertoire entitled “Tableaux et dessins” (Paintings and drawings). The same goes for the 12 Renaissance Swiss stained glass pieces. Although titles and print states were supplied for the Rops items, they were not counted as official losses and subsequently recorded. Therefore, what criteria did the CRA use to select items for inclusion in the Répertoire, the only official document printed by the French government after 1945 with which it could inform the outside world of items still listed as missing and therefore looted and subject to seizure? could it be that Robert Schumann lost interest in his collection of original Rops works? Did he get all philosophical about his losses thinking "time to move on"? Then, why bother reporting the objects as missing?

After all, it is complicated to search for works on paper. They are easy to conceal, most often there are no obvious markings on them that might distinguish them from other similar items.  This is especially true with any work reproduced from stone or plate through a press. And yet, there is a market for works by Félicien Rops as there is for Swiss Renaissance era stained glass. Could it be that a search for these items would necessitate a deeper investigation into the sinews of the art market? One can only speculate. But, as of now, if one totals up Robert Schumann’s net losses, they amount to at least 500 items, of which he recovered one—his Aubusson tapestry.