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.