20 November 2011

Pearls from Brazil

São Paulo, Brazil, boasts one of the finest art museums in the Southern Hemisphere, something to make its friends in Buenos Aires squirm.

MASP - Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo
Source: Flickr via Fernando Stankuns
Seal of Sao Paulo
Source: Wikipedia
Founded in 1947, or two years after the end of the Second World War, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), acquired works by Old and New Masters alike until it can now brag that it holds more than 8000 objects in its collection.

Currently on display at MASP are portraits and self-portraits by the likes of Goya, Manet, van Gogh, Modigliani, Renoir and others of equal esthetic caliber.

Any desire to know more about these works—their history, their previous owners, past exhibitions, publications in which they appeared—leads to … nothing. Anyone curious to find out additional information must undertake the research using available tools… like the Internet.

Let’s see what we get:

Le Gamin au Képi, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
Source: ArtFinder
On May 1, 1995, Christie’s in New York sold a painting entitled “Jeune homme à la casquette,” produced in November-December 1888, by Vincent van Gogh, for $13,202,500 as “the property of a European gentleman.” The provenance is fairly well fleshed out. It tells us that K. Neumann, from Barmen, acquired the painting from Justin Tannhauser on July 17, 1923. The next owner is Dr. Fritz Nathan, of Zurich, Switzerland, a leading art expert, appraiser and collector in his own right. He bought it in 1947 from K. Neumann. The K. Neumann most likely refers to Karl Neumann who, at the time, had owned another painting by van Gogh entitled, Landscape near Arles, which is now at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in Indianapolis, IN. Neumann had sold this painting to Tannhauser between 1918 and 1927. This Mr. Neumann lived in a town called Barmen, outside of Wuppertal in Western Germany. The neighboring city of Wuppertal absorbed Barmen in 1930.

The only question to ask here is: how did Karl Neumann hang on to a van Gogh painting for the entire period of the Third Reich? We do know that the Nazi regime investigated all transactions by Jewish dealers, especially as regards to objectionable works like those by Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Expressionists.

Portrait of Suzanne Block, Pablo Picasso, 1904
Source: Wikipedia
Although the provenance is impeccable, the history of the painting is worth a short documentary. “Suzanne Bloch” was one of the first works to be acquired by the MASP in 1947, with financial assistance from Walter Moreira Salles, the founder of Unibanco. Sixty years later, on December 20, 2007, thieves made off with the painting. The Sao Paulo police recovered the painting undamaged one month later.

Walther Moreira Salles
Source: Instituto Moreira Salles