16 June 2018

"Le premier jour de printemps à Moret", by Alfred Sisley--Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky
The Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley, produced “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1889, an oil on canvas measuring 46,2 x 56 cm, signed and dated “Sisley. 89” on the lower left of the painting. The first name which appears on the provenance of the painting in the Christie’s sale listing for November 6, 2008, is “Camentron” with no date of acquisition.  There was a “Galerie Martin Camentron” in Paris in the 1890s which acquired a number of Sisley paintings. There was also a “collection Camentron” in which one could find a number of paintings by Sisley. 

The famed “Galerie Durand-Ruel” acquired “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1892 from Camentron, one of several that the gallery acquired, as attested by the provenance of a Sisley painting at the Musée d’Orsay.

Thirty years elapsed before Mr. Perdoux allegedly acquired the Sisley painting. There is nothing to indicate that he bought it from Durand-Ruel. This could be the same Perdoux as Yves Perdoux, a notorious Parisian art dealer who collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France and denounced the locations of a number of Jewish-owned art collections, including that of Paul Rosenberg.

The Lindon family name does not appear in the Christie's provenance of this painting. At some point, the Wildenstein gallery in Paris came into possession of the painting. If one did not know that Lindon was associated with the Sisley painting, it would be impossible to deduce exactly when Wildenstein bought the painting—before, during or after WWII. On or about 1972, “the present owner” of the painting purchased “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” and brought it to market at Christie’s on November 6, 2008 where Alain Dreyfus acquired it for 338,500 dollars.

So, what happened between Perdoux and Wildenstein?

The theft

Months after the German invasion of France in June 1940, the Lindenbaum/Lindon collection was confiscated and sent to the Jeu de Paume on December 10, 1940.   It included five paintings by Sisley which had been stored in a vault at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon in Paris, until their removal by the German financial police agents with the Devisenschutzkommando (DSK) on December 5, 1940. The inventory drawn up by the DSK agents indicated a painting by Sisley 
excerpt from the DSK inventory
entitled “Frühling in Moret”. The initial inventory drawn up when the Lindenbaum collection first entered the Jeu de Paume in December 1940 showed a painting by Sisley with the following title: “Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”, with a lower left signature and the date “89”. 

The ERR personnel at the Jeu de Paume gave the Sisley painting the title of “Frühlingslandschaft” (Spring landscape) and the number "Li 56"; it described the painting as a “View into a meadow landscape with still bare fruit trees, poplars and bushes. In the background a human figure”.
ERR card for Li 56

In early January 1943, a new inventory of the Lindenbaum collection was drawn up under the supervision of Dr. Schiedlausky, who was the principal manager of the ERR depot of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria near the town of Hohenschwangau close to Fussen. However a number of Impressionist and other modern works from the Lindenbaum collection remained at the Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris and were inventoried there on July 17, 1942 by Dr. Tomforde, one of the main art historians and cataloguers of confiscated collections working for the ERR in Paris. In May 1944, Dr. von Ingram working with Schiedlausky completed the Lindenbaum inventory at Neuschwanstein, including three Sisley paintings slated to be exchanged by the German dealer and agent, Gustav Rochlitz, on Goering’s initiative. Those paintings had been swapped in Paris for a painting by Titian, entitled “Portrait of a young lady” on July 9, 1941. Li 56, “Frühlingslandschaft” remained with Gustav Rochlitz who shipped it to his storage facility in Mühlhofen near Meersburg in southern Bavaria along the shores of Lake Constanz. A handwritten note from a postwar Bavarian official confirmed this possibility.

On September 25, 1945, Alfred Lindon submitted a “final list” of works of art plundered from the vault he had rented at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon before the Germans’ arrival in the French capital. Incidentally, he named the Sisley painting “Sous-bois/printemps rose” and Mr. Lindon indicated that it had been acquired at Durand-Ruel.  Hence, when filling out the provenance advertised by Christie’s in November 2008, one could postulate the following:

Camentron, Paris
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above in April 1892)
Alfred Lindon?
Where does that put Mr. Perdoux (acquired from the above, November 1923)?

Could the 1923 Perdoux reference be a falsehood? If, as Mr. Lindon indicates on his inventory of works lost as a result of looting of the family vault at Chase Safe Deposit Company, he had bought the Sisley from Durand-Ruel, this would throw into question the mention of Perdoux in the provenance supplied to Christie’s. This would not be the first time that a provenance contained fictitious or misleading information. One possibility is that Alfred Lindon acquired the Sisley painting in November 1923 and that Yves Perdoux, if it is him, may have been involved in the recycling of the painting during WWII. He worked with various collaborationist art dealers, in particular Raphael Gérard, to whom he had sold numerous looted objects between 1940 and 1944. Anything is possible…

As a result of an exchange policy approved by the ERR and Hermann Goering, modern paintings confiscated from Jewish collectors were offered to French, Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and German art dealers in exchange for Old Masters which could grace the collections of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. Under exchange (Tausch) No. 10 of July 9, 1941, a number of Lindenbaum paintings, including the Sisley painting in question were offered to Gustav Rochlitz in exchange for a Titian painting. According to Rochlitz’s testimony to the Allies after WWII, he shipped the Sisley and many other paintings he had obtained on the Paris art market, to a storage place that he managed at Mühlhofen near Meesburg in southern Bavaria, along the northern shore of Lake Constanz. Rochlitz misrepresented many of his transactions to Allied interrogators. Therefore, it would not be surprising if the Sisley in question had remained in Paris and been sold or consigned for sale with collaborationists like Yves Perdoux or Raphael Gérard.

In sum, the chain of ownership for the Sisley painting was broken on December 5, 1940. Its post-confiscation disappearance on the Paris art market made it impossible for French and Allied officials to recover the painting and return it to the Lindon family. Knowledge of these illicit market activities was not well-known in the postwar years, except by those who engaged in them, those who benefited from them, and some of the victims who investigated the fate of their lost cultural assets. 

The postwar French directory of looted cultural assets  known as Répertoire des biens spoliés (RBS) includes several paintings by Sisley which include the word “printemps” (spring/Frühling), one of the titles ascribed to the painting by Alfred Lindon, which point to two owners, the estate of Mrs. Berthe Propper and Mr. Lindon. A handwritten annotation in the 1947 RBS catalogue points to the fact that the French government’s investigative file on the whereabouts of the painting was closed on August 5, 1961, an administrative procedure indicating that the French government no longer considered the location of the painting as feasible. In these instances, government officials would tell claimants that they should accept instead a compensatory package from the German government for their losses, 16 years after the end of WWII. Whether or not the Lindon family continued to search for the painting is a question that needs an answer.
crossed-out mention of "Le Printemps" in RBS
Works by Alfred Sisley in lost art databases


The database of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) includes three paintings by Sisley with the word “Spring”, none of which are ascribed to Alfred Lindon.


The database of looted cultural assets which is managed by the German Lost Art Foundation contains 22 paintings by Alfred Sisley, none of which correspond to the Alfred Lindon painting.

Art Loss Register (ALR)

It’s impossible to know what information on the Sisley the London-based Art Loss Register holds since it is a proprietary database. In general, auction houses and art dealers routinely submit to ALR information on objects on consignment for sale in order to identify any potential problems with title. 

Tentative conclusion
Once Alfred Lindon became dispossessed of the painting on December 5, 1940, the painting became a looted work of art subject to restitution which required it to be returned to its rightful owner. Since it was not located at the end of WWII or thereafter, the painting’s postwar itinerary is illegal. Any transfer of title from one possessor  to the next since 1940 was illegal and amounted to resale and possession of stolen property.  Wildenstein & Cie, one-time owner of the Sisley painting, has contributed to the postwar problem surrounding this painting.

An art dealer's responsibility compels him/her to do systematic due diligence on every object which he/she acquires, sells, or borrows. It does not matter if the object is being offered for sale by an auction house or a gallery or a museum or another art dealer or a private individual. That is his/her professional and ethical responsibility. To treat auction houses differently from other market actors is frankly puzzling and illogical.

It is my frank opinion that if Mondex succeeds in bringing Christie's to heel over the Sisley painting, it will not only undermine one of the more successful restitution experiments in the private art market but also raise serious concerns about the actual meaning of restitution of works and objects of art plundered during the Nazi years by reducing it to a mercenary hunt for cash at whatever the cost. That, frankly, is unethical.  I honestly hope that all parties come to their senses and seek some other form of solution which will benefit the Lindon family, first and foremost.

Additional notes


Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” by Alfred Sisley, painted in 1889, ended up in the possession of Alfred Lindenbaum/Lindon. The painting, before and after its racially-motivated confiscation, has had different titles prior to its purchase in 2008 by Alain Dreyfus:

“Sous-bois/printemps rose”
“Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”
“Frühling in Moret”


Usually, the ERR staff wrote or stenciled on the back of works it confiscated, especially paintings, the alpha-numeric code that they assigned to the items they catalogued at the Jeu de Paume. Those markings would have been the obvious tip-off that the painting had been stolen during the German occupation of Paris. Was the painting restretched, reframed? Were the markings erased?  If so, who would have stripped the painting down of obvious markings left by the ERR?


Bundesarchiv, B323/277 Koblenz, Germany
209SUP 2, 209SUP 603, French Foreign Affairs Ministry Archives, La Courneuve, France
RG 260 M1943 Reel 12, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD