28 January 2012

Deconstructing Aphrodite: the Getty Art Museum, looted antiquities and the art trade

The 4th century BC marble sculpture of winged griffins at center of controversy, acquired illegally by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1985
Source: NPR
An interesting event took place on Tuesday 24 January at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The theme of this cultural evening, organized by Keri Douglas, the highly-accomplished energetic chief executive of Nine Muses International, focused on the international scandal surrounding the J. Paul Getty Museum’s unabashed no-holds barred acquisitions of illegally excavated Greek and Roman antiquities. To make a real long story short, Marion True, a senior curator of antiquities at the Getty, was left holding the bag and has been the subject of a number of lawsuits, especially in Italy, where she was forced to stand trial.
Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA
Source: Wikipedia
Getty Villa, Pacific Palisades, CA
Source: Wikipedia

The main speakers were Arthur Houghton, formerly of the Getty and a character in the saga of the looted antiquities, Gary Vikan, director of the Baltimore-based Walters Art Museum, and a self-proclaimed reformer amongst his museum director peers, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, co-authors of the book, “Chasing Aphrodite” who led the investigation into the illicit Getty acquisitions, and James Grimaldi, a Washington Post investigative reporter who has undertaken a fair number of inquiries into corruption, high and low.

Jason Felch
Source: Chasing Aphrodite
Ralph Frammolino
Source: Chasing Aphrodite
The story itself is worthy of a mini-series. The comments by all involved, however entertaining and mildly caustic, reaffirmed some long-held truths and realities about the international art market, museums, the search for truth in ownership, and the knotty question of ethics—whether one can be ethical and be a collector, dealer, museum director or curator.

Marion True
Source: The Art Newspaper
Gary Vikan believes in the capacity of a museum to be anchored in “experience” as opposed to “ownership.” Or, put another way (hopefully more clearly), American museums are obsessed with the idea of acquiring and owning pieces, sometimes at any cost, simply for the selfish, narcissistic pleasure of owning, of being the proprietor of something beautiful and beguiling. That insatiable quest for owning gets in the way of the mission of sharing cultural objects with the general public and encouraging heretofore unseen objects to come to the light of day and be exposed for the time to the gaping eyes of the incredulous and starstruck public.   The antidote to "ownership" is "experience" and this can only occur if museums focus on the idea that a carefully-constructed network of mutually-beneficial relationships anchored in long-term loans and exchanges can encourage museums to dig into the second basement and bring to the surface long-forgotten items which are worthy of adoration and can be shared with like-minded institutions worldwide, thus favoring relationships with smaller and less recognized institutions that hold unknown treasures of the past. That is a nice idea, but one that eschews the fundamental problem, which is how the object entered the collection in the first place. By displacing the discussion away from the source of the object and its potentially illicit itinerary into the collection of a museum, the end result simply becomes one whereby the past should be left … in the past and we ought to focus more on the all-inclusivity of the global community of custodians of great art sharing their wealth with the masses. How grand!

Arthur Houghton, on the other hand, was irreverently charming, despite his cynical embrace of the art world’s megalomania for unfettered opacity in trade and demanding to be left alone so that it can continue to play to the tune of fifty billion dollars’ worth of globally-traded assets per annum, mostly under cover of darkness. He predicted, perhaps rightfully so, that nothing human could bring this dynamic, insolently unregulated marketplace to heel and to abide by those boring and annoyingly pesky rules of ethical behavior that require objects to be properly sourced and not to be traded if they are in fact “hot,” as in stolen.

Last but not least, our two co-authors, Felch and Frammolino, made a compelling case for why the Getty Museum’s officers and senior staff should have been dragged in chains before Federal judges on charges of conspiracy to commit grand theft and other violations that come with aiding and abetting international trading in stolen cultural property. But, as was pointed out by various members of the audience and the speakers themselves, no one in their right mind would dare take on the esteemed leadership of the global arts community. Even more interesting, Felch argued that American museums have been abusing their tax-exempt status for decades, a privilege that allows them to acquire and display without much oversight at all from external agencies.  Should they be held accountable for their uses and misuses of their tax-exemption? or is that simply another fruitless windmill?

What’s the lesson here?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. This would be the view of a cynical realist.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, would be the view of the cautious, thanklessly persistent and guarded pessimistic optimist. Persistence, perseverance, and relentless patience through constant prodding, investigation, and clinging to uncompromising standards of transparency and truth in reporting—those combined, with help of some deities, should be able to move the rock of Sysiphus further up the hill, and closer to its inevitable tipping point. So, we wish.

18 January 2012

“The Portrait of Walli”: The Case that Will Not Go Away

Portrait of Walli, by Egon Schiele
Source: Bloomberg
In an odd twist of events that allows Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Walli” to resurface as a magnet for attention, Robert E. Roistacher, former chairperson of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, and a 1968 graduate of Columbia University, filed a “demand for judgment” against Andre Bondi and Edith Southwell, the heirs of Lea Bondi Jarai, the late rightful owner of “Walli” whose painting was returned to the Leopold Foundation in Vienna, Austria, in exchange for 19,000,000 $. [the complaint was officially filed, right? Is there a public source to the info?]

Mr. Roistacher is asking for $4,500,000 in professional services that he rendered to the family which include “developing a plan to restrain the property…from leaving New York County, New York, and the jurisdiction of United States courts, until restitution was made therefor.” Roistacher argues that he introduced the Bondi Jaray family members to “legal counsel” and helped in the recovery of the painting.

The demand represents a quarter of the settled value of the painting, and was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on November 14, 2011.

The “Walli” case has an original aspect to it. You might recall that the painting was identified in late 1997 as being the property of Lea Bondi Jaray’s family while on display at the Museum of Modern Art of New York, loaned for that purpose by the Leopold Foundation in Vienna, as part of a major retrospective of Egon Schiele’s works. Ronald S. Lauder, former US Ambassador to Austria, and chairman of the Board of MOMA, was instrumental in facilitating this keystone exhibit of the Austrian Secessionist’s provocative and sensual works.

Robert Morgenthau, former District Attorney of Manhattan
Source: Zimbio
Once “Walli” was fingered as possible looted cultural property, a mad scramble ensued to keep the painting from returning to Austria after the exhibit had ended its run at MOMA. The painting, wrapped and crated, was slated to depart in the first week of January 1998. On the eve of its departure, however, then District Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, son of the late Henry Morgenthau, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary from 1933 to 1945, called in the cavalry in the form of New York’s “finest men in blue”—the Police Department—and had the painting seized in order for the aggrieved parties to be given a fair hearing on the matter of the ownership of “Walli.”

The seizure represented Phase One of the case. Phase Two dragged on for twelve long years until a settlement was reached with the Leopold Foundation in July 2010, which was brokered by the law firm of Herrick Feinstein acting on behalf of the Lea Bondi Jaray estate.

The question raised by this new twist appears to be: what exactly happened during Phase One? It was sufficiently complex that a serious history of that period may need to be written. Until then, we will see what unfolds with Mr. Roistacher’s claim.

11 January 2012

The “three graces” of art restitution

"The Graces of the Gardens of the Hesperides", Rubens, taken by the ERR
Source: Holocaust-Era Assets Portal, NARA, RG 111-SC-374665
Although they were not paragons of beauty by any Classical standard, Ardelia Hall, Evelyn Tucker, and Rose Valland, constitute a trinity of hard-nosed women who flew the standard of art restitution in the post-1945 era as high and as steadily as they possibly could with the bare means put at their disposal to do justice in their own special way.

Indeed, each one of them behaved in a unique way, faced with specific sets of challenges that on occasion may have seemed insurmountable to them. And yet, they persevered. Although Ardelia Hall and Evelyn Tucker left their respective duties with very mixed feelings, Rose Valland, in relative terms, fared far better and benefited from additional institutional support for her mission to recover items belonging to France and to individuals living in France at the time of the German occupation and the Vichy years. In true French style, Rose Valland was awarded some of the highest honors commensurate with engaging in feats of Resistance during the German occupation.

On the other hand, Ardelia Hall and Evelyn Tucker, the former at the US Department of State, the latter in the US zone of occupation in Austria, were given short shrift throughout their tenure in the US government and were forced to turn into one-woman armies with skeletal staff support in an all-male world. I emphasize this gender issue because it stands out as self-evident. The worlds of international diplomacy and Allied military occupation and civil administration were populated by men, while women, for the most part, served in auxiliary functions. Even the various Allied art recovery commissions established by France (Vaucher), Great Britain (Macmillan), and the United States (Roberts) were all-male casts of museum directors, art historians, curators, and civil servants.

While Ardelia Hall and Rose Valland were creatures of the prewar museum world, Evelyn Tucker was not. Ardelia Hall was a specialist in ancient China and began her museum career in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts before moving on to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, from which she was tapped to serve in a small office of cultural affairs at the US Department of State in 1944. Rose Valland worked in a curatorial capacity in prewar Paris, and was referred to by a senior curator in France, as a “little mouse”[la petite souris du Louvre] at the Louvre, before she was thrust into the weird world of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) at the Jeu de Paume.  Her tenacity earned her many postwar stars as an unwitting observer of institutional plunder for four long years. Following the Liberation of France, she served at Baden-Baden in the French zone of occupation of Germany where she coordinated restitution operations on behalf of the French government.

In some strange way, based on a comparative reading of the correspondence between Ardelia Hall, Evelyn Tucker and Rose Valland, Ardelia appeared to be the one on whom they both relied for strength, inspiration, and support, especially Evelyn whose continual run-ins with the US military administration in Vienna and Salzburg and confrontations with the leadership of the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP) made her tasks all the more arduous. This might explain why Evelyn Tucker became increasingly an advocate of Austrian interests, sometimes setting her at odds even with official US restitution policy.

More will appear in these pages about Ardelia, Evelyn, and Rose. Suffice it to say, for now, that without their extraordinary displays of bravura and stubbornness, we would not be blessed today with hundreds of thousands of pages of invaluable information regarding thefts, investigations, and recoveries of countless cultural items purloined by the Nazis in Europe. In a corny way, I feel compelled to doff my invisible hat and say to them: thank you for sticking by your guns and handing over to us and future generations a priceless legacy of historical information documenting one of the most complex events of the last century.

Les trois muses. Fragment de décoration de la maison de Titus Dentatius Panthera à Pompéi, (54-68 ap.J.C.)
Source: Radio France Internationale (RFI) via Musée national d'archéologie de Naples

10 January 2012

"Der Garten Daubignys," Vincent van Gogh

Shortly before the troubled, inspired, and heartbreaking life of Vincent van Gogh came to a violent end on July 29, 1890, at Auvers-sur-Oise, he produced a series of oil paintings focused on the garden of the painter Charles-François Daubigny.  One of them was "Der Garten Daubignys" or "Le Jardin de Daubigny" or "Daubigny's Garden", painted at some point in June 1890, and measures 53 x 103 cm.

Der Garten Daubignys, Charles-Francois Daubigny
Source: Wikimedia
In 1929, Ludwig Justi, director of the National Galerie in Berlin paid 240,000 Marks for “Der Garten Daubignys [Jardin de Daubigny/Daubigny’s Garden] which he acquired from renowned Paris art dealer, Paul Rosenberg.

In 1938 the National Socialists accelerated their war against all forms of “degenerate” art by enforcing the de-accesioning of those works deemed to be objectionable and antithetical to the new racially-tinged esthetic creed, which could be found in cultural institutions subsidized by the State. As part of this purging campaign, the National Galerie in Berlin was forced to disgorge its “degenerate” art including three oils by van Gogh, one of which was “Der Garten Daubignys.” According to Franz Roh, Hermann Goering took custody of the three paintings and sold them with the help of one of his trusted dealers, Josef Angerer, who later served Goering in a similar capacity—seizing and brokering sales of looted cultural assets—across German-occupied Europe. The “Jardin de Daubigny” presumably fetched 150,000 Reichsmarks for the Reich. The buyer of the van Gogh painting was a German-born banker, Franz Koenigs, who, as a result of his antipathy towards the National Socialists, elected to move to neighboring Holland, converting much of his cash into cultural assets. Koenigs became a naturalized Dutch citizen in 1939.

According to Jeannette Greenfield, Koenigs sold the “Jardin de Daubigny” to Siegfried and Lola Kramarsky. However, based on information gleaned from the Sage Recovery website, Koenigs had sent to Knoedlers Gallery in New York for safekeeping another van Gogh painting, “Portrait of Dr. Gachet”, purchased under similar circumstances as the “Jardin de Daubigny” following its de-accession from a Frankfurt museum. Kramarsky then “took” Gachet as collateral for an unpaid loan consented to Koenigs by Kramarsky’s bank, Lisser and Rosenkranz. Koenigs died in 1941 presumably at the hands of the Gestapo. Did the “Jardin de Daubigny” follow the same path as “Dr. Gachet”? Publicly available information does not shed light on this particular aspect of the transaction. Suffice it to say that the painting remained in New York in the private collection of the Kramarskys for many decades.

Enter the Japanese. Flush with capital at the height of an economic and financial boom in the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese bankers and investors go on massive shopping sprees in the West and buy up for then-astronomical sums masterpieces by Impressionist painters. Van Gogh paintings are snapped up at outrageously inflated prices in headline-grabbing auctions.

The Hiroshima Museum of Art opens its doors in 1978. It is not clear whether the “Jardin de Daubigny” is “present at the creation” or enters the permanent collection of the Hiroshima Museum thereafter. But it does currently adorn the walls of Gallery 2 of this famed Japanese cultural institution. Jeffrey Archer indicates that this version of the “Jardin de Daubigny” went to the Nishido Gallery in Tokyo. That fact is impossible to verify.

Does the saga end here? Not quite, since for decades, a pall of suspicion has been cast over “Der Garten Daubignys” as a possible forgery produced by a French painter who had fallen in love with van Gogh’s works, Emile Schuffenecker.  Even the Japanese subjected the painting to a series of rigorous forensic tests using state-of-the-art technology to ascertain its authenticity, which they maintain to this day.

Hence, here we have a late masterpiece by van Gogh, illegally removed from the walls of a German State collection, sold to raise cash for the Reich, purchased by a German-born banker, and acquired under less than clear circumstances either in Holland or in New York, which now hangs on the wall of a museum in Japan. Who is the rightful owner? According to a statement released by Christine Koenigs in April 2000, the “Jardin de Daubigny” is listed as one of many works “displaced” from Franz Koenigs’ collection.

05 January 2012

Franz Marc’s “The Large Blue Horses”

Die grossen blauen Pferden, Franz Mac
Source: Walker Art Center
Franz Marc’s “The Large Blue Horses” [Die grossen blauen Pferden], which he painted in 1911, have adorned the walls of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN, since late 1941 when Mrs. Gilbert Walker acquired the painting from the Karl Nierendorf Gallery in New York.

This German Expressionist work had been touring a select number of museums across the United States as part of a group of works dubbed “Twentieth Century Banned German Art”, itself a sub-set of a major exhibit of nearly 150 works of art banned by the Nazi Party that had taken place in London in 1938. That exhibit, a direct rebuke to the notorious July 1937 “Entartete Kunst” exhibit in Munich, Germany, was labeled as “Twentieth Century Banned German Art”, organized by the New Burlington Galleries.

The 1938 London Exhibit was organized by an unusual assemblage of individuals, including, but not limited to, Herbert Read, a noted British poet and art historian, and Edouard Léon Théodore Mesens, an idiosyncratic Belgian art critic, gallerist, dealer, and remnant of a splinter group within the Dadaist movement, living in Brussels. While Read was the titular chair of the Organizing Committee for the Exhibit, Mesens was one of its logistical and operational cogs. In addition to Mesens, there were two Swiss modern artists, Irmgard Burchard and Richard Paul Lohse, briefly married to one another, who contributed to the organization of the  London Exhbit of "banned German art" which ran from July 8, 1938, to August 27, 1938.

Meanwhile, where was Franz Marc’s painting before the 1938 London Exhibit? According to the Walker Art Center’s fairly careful research, there were two to three owners before the Walker acquired "The Large Blue Horses": two Swiss men from Zurich, J.E. Wolfensberger and F.J. Weck; and possibly, one German owner based in Berlin, Curt Glaser. Glaser appears as a likely owner because of circumstantial evidence that he might have been the person who sold the Marc painting to Wolfensberger before the First World War. In any event, Weck was the proud owner of “The Blue Horses” by 1919. The Walker’s research points out that Weck owned the painting at least through 1925. However, it assumes that he was the one who lent it to the 1938 London Exhibit. Although that is a plausible theory, it is not necessarily convincing. There was a vibrant market before and after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 which affected German Expressionist artists. There is always a likelihood that the Marc painting might have returned to Germany into the hands of another owner.

That is not to say that anything reprehensible took place which affects the past ownership of this particular painting. But the thirteen year gap in the provenance, when viewed within the context of the period—a dynamic effervescence in the dissemination and collecting of German Expressionist works, the growing internationalization of the market for such works, the dramatic shifts in ownership and control over such works resulting from the change in government in Germany, the ensuing exodus of these unwanted, condemned works to foreign countries—one has to be careful not to assume that Weck had continual possession of the painting “at least up to the time it is known to have left Switzerland in 1938.” By the same token, the Walker research acknowledges that Karl Nierendorf had a gallery in Berlin, before opening his new outpost in New York in 1936. More work needs to be done on this painting for the period between 1925 and 1938.

In a tidbit of trivial history, the Walker research mentions Blanche A. Byerley as the organizer of the 1939-1940 American tour of “Twentieth Century Banned German Art”. It indicates that “little is known” about her. After poking around a bit, the following can now be said about Blanche:

She hailed from Westport, Connecticut. At some point before the mid-1930s, she married a well-connected naval officer by the name of Charles Felton Pousland, who held the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the US Navy. Pousland had been a graduate of Harvard University and of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. His father, Charles, a banker and investment broker, had died in 1917. His older sister, Elizabeth Cutting, was a graduate of Radcliffe College. Although Blanche became Mrs. Pousland, she maintained her maiden name when she opened a Lecture Bureau in New York City, the “Blanche A. Byerley Lecture Bureau” which, among other activities, specialized in tours of art exhibits. She apparently left that career behind in 1941 when she and her husband moved to a tony suburb in Wilton, CT. Blanche Byerley Pousland definitely had a yen for modern European art as well as for African-American women artists since she was responsible for organizing exhibits featuring the works of American women artists of color such as Lois Mailou Jones, Selma Burke, Laura Warine, and Katherine Gardner. Finally, Blanche raised money in 1942 for the Russian War Relief, a true believer in the Allied war effort.

Back to the 1938 London exhibit. Most of the 150 or so works on display at the New Burlington Galleries "Banned German Art" exhibit were lent without the consent of the artists or the owners. Most, if not all, of the works were shown to be sold, which raised the specter of sales proceeds being sent back to Germany and, thereby, voiding the anti-Nazi mission of the exhibit in the first place. If not to Germany, then where and to whom, especially if the works had been exhibited without prior consent? There has never been a proper accounting of these “banned” works, those that were returned unsold to the sources which lent them, those works which were then shipped to the United States or other destinations, like the Franz Marc painting which Nierendorf’s New York gallery received to be sold on behalf of the owner. Which one, though?

03 January 2012

"The Red Horses" by Franz Marc

The saga continues pertaining to the so-called “degenerate” works of art de-accessioned from German State collections. Unless otherwise stated, the subject preoccupies us until there is a resolution reached on the status of works and objects of art illegally de-accessioned, sold and bartered during the Third Reich.

On June 30, 1939, an auction—now infamous—of “works from German Museums” took place at the Theodor Fischer Gallery in Lucerne/Luzern, Switzerland. The auction was well-attended. The bidders and curious onlookers who wished to attend this one-of-a-kind sale of the cream of the “degenerate” cultural crop constituted an odd mix of National Socialist officials, as well as industrialists, financiers, brokers, middlemen, agents, gallery owners and dealers, and museum officials from the United States and Europe.

We chose at random one painting, “Grazing Horses IV,” also known as “The Red Horses,” painted by Franz Marc in 1911, to serve as an example of the fate of these choice items illegally culled from the cultural temples of Germany. A closer examination of its history helps us in our understanding of how historical information is conveyed about these and similar works which carry forever a genuinely controversial pedigree.

"Grazing Horses IV" aka. "The Red Horses", Franz Marc, 1911
Source: Wikipaintings
This exceptionally vibrant and dreamy painting had once been the pride and joy of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, from which it was de-accessioned together with hundreds of other works in 1937. It is presently on long-term loan to Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, MA. Previously, it had been featured in a landmark exhibit of Franz Marc’s “Horses” in the fall of 2000 at the Busch-Reisinger Museum, which is also part of Harvard University.

The current owner of the painting is Gabriele Brougier Esselborn Geier. She was born Gabriele Brougier on April 2, 1918, in Vienna, Austria. In 1939, she married Wilhelm zu Solms-Roedelheim und Assenheim, a local psychoanalyst who turned out to be the bearer of an impressive aristocratic pedigree linking him to Prussian nobility and the House of Hessen. He was also politically hostile to the National Socialists and became active in the Austrian political resistance to Hitler throughout the Second World War. The pair divorced in 1947.

We still do not know whether Gabriele is the one who took an interest in the Luzern sale or if her husband did. Judging by postwar information on the ownership of the Red Horses, we surmise that Gabriele, rather than Wilhelm, was the instigator of the purchase of the Marc painting as well as of another work, Portrait of the Duchess of Montesquiou, by Oskar Kokoschka, which had also been offered up for sale at the Fischer Gallery as a reject from German State collections.

August Busch Hall (Busch-Reisinger Museum) at Harvard University
Source: Wikipedia
In 1949, Gabriele married Paul Esselborn Geier, referred to as Paul E. Geier. There is a strong possibility that the two met in Vienna. Geier, born on November 19, 1914 hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father, Frederick Geier, Sr., was an important local manufacturer of machine parts. His father divorced his mother, Juliet Esselborn, to marry another woman, Amanda Mayer. Paul E. Geier studied at Harvard University from which he graduated in 1936. There, he wrote a pamphlet entitled “Studies of Modern German Antisemitism” which Harvard published in 1936. From there, he went to Harvard Law School from which he graduated in 1939. Geier returned to Cincinnati where he joined his father’s company. On February 9, 1940, he was admitted to the Ohio Bar. Later on, he represented the British Purchasing Commission before joining the Foreign Service. His duties as an American diplomat took him to Tangiers in March 1941, Jidda in November 1943 before becoming part of the staff of the US Political Advisor (USPOLAD) on Austrian Affairs, in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MEDTO) in 1945. Those duties took him to Vienna where he served as vice consul in 1946 and as consul in 1947. Geier then was transferred to Casablanca in mid-1948 before joining the US Embassy in Rome in 1949 where he served until 1953. At some point, Geier became very close to the art historian Bernard Berenson whom he regularly visited at his estate, Villa I Tatti, which Berenson had acquired in 1905. I Tatti later became part of the Harvard University Empire as a leading international center for research and scholarship in art history.

The Geiers made their home in Rome, although Gabriele also maintained a presence in her native Vienna. Thereafter, they moved back to Cincinnati in the mid-1950s where Paul and Gabriele became major philanthropic figures in the arts and higher education.

The Geiers loaned “The Red Horses” alternately to the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) and the Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge, MA, in a shared arrangement. In 1996 Gabriele Geier received an unsolicited pledge reminder card from the CAM which took her over the edge, having just written a fat check to the Cincinnati Museum. Piqued, she withdrew the painting from CAM, stopped all future donations to CAM and established the Busch-Reisinger as the only worthy recipient of the painting and her cultural largesse. “The Red Horses” have since moved to the Fogg Art Museum.

Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University
Source: Wikipedia
Paul E. Geier died on October 23, 1981. A library wing of Villa I Tatti was created to honor his memory. Gabriele Geier moved back to Rome where she has been living ever since. In a stinging rebuke to the Cincinnati Art Museum, she hinted that she had other works at her house in Rome which she would donate to the Fogg.

The extant literature on “The Red Horses” is a bit mixed up about who bought the painting in Lucerne. Never do we see the name of Fritz Steinmeyer, who was Julius Bohler’s former art gallery partner before striking out on his own. It is Steinmeyer who allegedly acquires the painting. This attribution is correctly mentioned by German art historian Uwe Fleckner in his opus “Angriff auf die Avantgarde: Kunst und Kunstpolitik im Nationalsozialismus’. He states that lot 87 was sold to Mr. Steinmeyer, Luzern for Paul E. Geier, in Cincinnati. The reference to Paul Geier is an exercise in elliptical thinking, which is also repeated by provenance researcher Laurie Stein in a biting report that she wrote for the Swiss government on German-Swiss trafficking in “degenerate” works where she indicates that Paul Geier attended the sale and acquired several works including “The Red Horses.” It turns out that Paul was busy graduating from Harvard Law School while the Lucerne sale was well under way and that he had no knowledge of his future wife, Gabriele, nor of her interest in “degenerate” works of art. These types of mistakes, small as they may seem, are of a kind that raise our antennae about the accuracy of other information pertaining to the Lucerne auction and similar events.

Furthermore, numerous art sites on the Internet ascribe “The Red Horses” to a private collection or to an anonymous loan, when a bit of effort in research would have pointed out the identity of Gabriele as the owner of the work in question since 1939 and with her husband, Paul, since 1949. The Frick Museum’s online Art Reference Library (FRESCO) is the only source that gets it almost entirely right, naming Gabriele Geier as the owner since Lucerne.

Regardless of the above, several points come to mind:
  1. How did Gabriele Brougier zu Solms-Rodelheim und Assenheim know about the Lucerne sale and which pieces to acquire there? How did she feel about acquiring de-accessioned works because of their “degenerate” character, knowing that the funds would revert back to the German State?
  2. What was her relationship with Fritz Steinmeyer? Or did Steinmeyer acquire the works before contacting Gabriele Brougier to interest her in the Marc painting and in the Kokoschka as well?
  3. As with the other de-accessioned pieces sold at the Fischer Gallery in Lucern on June 30, 1939, our position is firm: the sale was illegal, the works were illegally removed from German State collections and, therefore, their ownership history will be forever tainted.
Last but not least, there is a file at the Central Intelligence Agency on Paul Esselborn Geier.