20 September 2020

Research and sanity during a pandemic

by Marc Masurovsky


Together with millions of men, women and children around the world, we have found ourselves trapped in a reality that we did not invite or want. 200,000 American citizens have lost their lives to a rampant virus which has not spared anyone that it comes into contact with. Failed public policies, reprehensible personal lifestyle choices and political callousness have only exacerbated what experts say was a highly preventable health crisis. 


The pandemic has taken a horrendous toll--emotional, physical and economic—on entire communities across the US and around the world. Although wearing a mask has turned out to be a no-brainer cheap way to stem the viral onslaught, for many, it’s an affront. An aspect of human behavior which I cannot fathom.


On a personal note….


My bedroom/study has become my operational epicenter, a small desk on which all of my tools are assembled—laptop, external drives, headset, printer, pens, post-its, lamp, the requisite pile of books, small teapot, tea cup and phone.  I do my best to keep the tea from spilling on the electronics.


My interactions with the outside world are even more filtered and skewed than before, relying almost exclusively on the technology of available bandwidth and uplinks to gain access to the internet, cable television, and Netflix. Staying sane is priority number one, tied with staving off COVID-19. The two have become unhappy bedfellows. Wanting to be hugged and held tight as a sign of human contact and love appear to be far off into the future.


On a professional note….


How can one make a project move forward that is anchored almost exclusively in on-site archival research? The National Archives are closed, as are the Archives of American Art (AAA) and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM.  The same with museums, universities and libraries.  Fold3.com (a digital container which contains a comprehensive sample of critical records pertaining to plunder during the Nazi years) and other research-focused websites have proven to be (relatively) lifesaving (not by much, though), making it possible to retrieve relevant documents. However, those digital resources have now been exhausted. 


The shuttering of archives on both sides of the Atlantic has put on hold, delayed and canceled entire research projects, many of which rely on cohorts of researchers and analysts plowing through archives in Paris, Munich, Koblenz, the Hague, Amsterdam, and London, to name a few. Furloughs and layoffs of research personnel across borders and oceans have been the inevitable consequence, sadly so, especially in the precarious freelance and independent research community but also in research facilities, small and large museums alike, and other cultural institutions. The long-term damage of these surgical operations against human capital is incalculable.


Can research projects survive in such a restrictive environment once on-site research and consultation of documents are no longer possible?  Is the Internet really cracked up to serve as a digital surrogate of real life? In the case of deep archival research, the short answer is no.  Data aggregators compiling information about works and objects of art sold at auction for the past three decades provide some limited solace which only fuels more anxiety and apprehension at the thought of conducting in-depth research.


Worst case scenario: the research stops, I/we hoist the white flag out of resignation and surrender in the face of a hopelessly vain quest to gain access to and obtain research materials.  


On a happier note…


The pandemic has put to the test long-established and newly emerging networks of affection and affiliation that bring together researchers, museum professionals, historians, cultural officials, archivists and librarians in many different countries and disciplines.  I can report with great relief that, so far as I have experienced and witnessed them, the ties that bind have so far have seemingly withstood the test of fractured physical encounters as evidenced by the amount of virtual assistance provided by archivists and specialists (so far) in the United States, France, the Netherlands and Germany. They have generously shared thousands of images of archival documents in unexpected expressions of collegiality and international cooperation.  Zoom conferences can only do so much but are a pale substitute for face-to-face organic encounters in enclosed spaces.


On a more personal note, the years-long hoarding of print and digital copies of archival documents has proven to be extremely useful. Under non-pandemic circumstances, this behavior might be viewed as suspect and an outward symptom of a serious psychological disorder.  Still, these virtual and physical mountains of documents have proven to be a lifesaver as they contain much relevant information, in most cases with the appropriate archival citation.


The continuing bad news is that the global health crisis shows no weakness, travel restrictions remain in place especially between the United States-major culprit in sustaining the pandemic—and a host of countries around the world. The better news is that archives are reopening in Western Europe under less than favorable circumstances for sustained research. The same goes for libraries and museums. Access—albeit limited--is resuming under restrictive conditions.


The next few years are going to be extremely challenging. In our narrow niche we explore the devastations wrought against culture, cultural rights and cultural goods, and the complexities of locating and recovering these displaced objects wherever they are.  Access to documents and know-how is essential to unravel the interlacing networks that favor and shape the displacement and dispersal of these objects over time and space. Without access to primary sources and other research efforts, it is difficult and oftentimes nigh impossible to understand the what, where, when, why and by whom of the problem. In order to mitigate our inability to gain access to documents, it is imperative that we shed whatever reluctance and reservation we may have about opening and sharing the knowledge that we have amassed over the years. We need to make it available to those who need it—personal company included--, so that all of our efforts, individual and combined, are not lost and wasted and they can be sustained, strengthened and disseminated so that we may all profit for our own good and for the common good.


Stay safe… This too shall pass. But at what price?

06 April 2020

Historical continuities: Art dealers in Paris

by Marc Masurovsky

While rummaging through the papers of the Perls Galleries located at the Archives of American Art in Washington, DC, I stumbled on a June 1967 listing of members of the Paris-based “Comité professionel des galeries d’art” [equivalent of the Art dealers association in New York] 24 years after the liberation of Paris in late August 1944.

If you take a close look at it, names of victims and recyclers of their confiscated works and objects co-exist in a surreal club of art dealers and gallerists who, like in a Peyton Place-like farce, know of each other’s dirty laundry but continue to do business, because, you know, business first, ethics later, justice? What’s that?

Out of 140 gallerists members of the local dealers' association in June 1967, 34 had been active during the period of German occupation. And here they are still doing business in groovy mid-1960s Paris. Why should that worry us? It all depends on the way you look at the transition from a wartime art market to a postwar art market. On the one hand, it must be somewhat galling to be conducting business amongst individuals who shrugged their shoulders when art works belonging to their Jewish acquaintances or colleagues were offered to them for sale and they did not blink at the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, the cynical ones will tell you that it’s always been like this and you need to suck it up and make your peace with it. Otherwise you won’t last and you might as well pick another occupation. And don’t count on the government to sort out the ethics of this amoral mess. 

The past two decades since the Washington Conference on Holocaust-era Assets of December 1998 have been littered with vain attempts to create change in the way that the art world conducts its business. Although the changes are hard to discern, one thing is sure: the word “provenance” is unavoidable and unmistakable and so is its evil twin, “due diligence.” That’s progress!
Source: Perls Galleries Records, Archives of American Art, Box 8, Folder “Comité professionnel des galeries d’art”

05 April 2020

Art exports from Europe to the Western Hemisphere

by Marc Masurovsky
Applications for export pases for works of art, page 1

An innocuous list of works and objects of art has been widely available for study since historical records about art looting and restitution during the Nazi era become accessible either by on-site visits to leading archives or after their digitization on the platform known as fold3.com.

The list is entitled: “Applications for export passes for works of art.” All of the works which their owners have desired to export the Western Hemisphere were acquired in or came from areas known as “enemy territory.” This moniker targeted the following countries: Austria/Vienna, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland/Netherlands, France/Paris, “unoccupied France”, Romania.

The applicants submitted their export petitions from the following places: France, Lisbon, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland. They filed their export applications between 23/1/40 and 5/5/44, the vast majority having been submitted in 1941 and 1942, and only one in 1944.

The dates at which the objects were “taken from enemy territory” ostensibly to the places from which the export applications were then filed ranged from as early as 1934 and as late as 1941.

The objects themselves are a mix of works by Old Masters and 19th century French artists.

If we do our due diligence in a professional and non-judgmental way, all of these works need to be given extra scrutiny to eliminate any suspicion that they might have been misappropriated under Nazi rule aimed at Jews and their property. Many of the applicants’ names are well-known Jewish collectors who escaped from Europe or remained in neutral territories until the Nazi/Fascist dust had settled (Paul Graupe, Sommergut, Brunschnig, Francisca Heinemann, among others). Still, it’s worth asking about the provenance of works of art removed from Nazi Germany between 1934 and 1940, from Austria as of 1938, from France as of fall of 1940, out of Romania in 1941. With regards to the Netherlands, the objects were removed in 1938. That does not necessarily mean that their ownership history is completely clean since they could have been subject to illicit displacements in Germany and transferred to the Netherlands for sale to unwitting purchasers. We simply do not know. And that’s where research comes in handy.

A number of the works have interwar provenance information that removes the cloud (a Bauchant painting acquired from Jeanne Bucher in spring of 1940, a Bonnard acquired from the artist in 1940). But, as in the case of Paul Graupe while he was still in charge of an auction house in Berlin in 1935, one should be cautious because he did sell confiscated Jewish property. Therefore, a “Madonna with Child” attributed to Cima de Conegliano which Walter Wolf acquired from him in 1935 should be screened further. What about a Matisse painting acquired by André Weill “from Vollard” in May 1940? Vollard had died unexpectedly on the eve of World War II, and Martin Fabiani and Etienne Bignou, two notorious figures of the soon-to-be illegal art trade in German-occupied France, had imposed themselves as co-executors of the massive estate left by Ambroise Vollard? Should this object be reassessed based on the turbulent history surrounding the estate?

Even if all of these works ultimately pass the “plunder smell test”, we should keep in mind that the Roberts Commission and its tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, art historians and curators from distinguished American museums, did not have much information to go by when assessing the origins of these works before or after they entered the United States, except for the fact that they were the property of mostly well-established Jewish collectors in Europe who were fleeing for their lives from the neutral countries which they were able to reach.

When faced with such lists, don’t just dismiss them and assume that everything is fine. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. The snapshot of the objects' trajectory that this 22-page list encapsulates becomes part of the object’s provenance or history in time and space and should be recorded as such.

Applications for export passes for works of art, page 2
Duly noted.

09 January 2020

What happened to the collection of Edouard Esmond?

by Marc Masurovsky

[This is the fourth in a series of articles on the fate of Jewish-owned collections confiscated by the ERR in France and their treatment at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex up to July 1943.]

Edouard Esmond was married to Valentine Deutsch de laMeurthe, closely linked to the Rothschild family. A British-born dandy and socialite living in Paris, Esmond was better known as a breeder of thoroughbred horses, and a golf enthusiast who founded the EsmondCup which he named after himself and his three daughters, also golf pros in their own right. As a matter of fact, Diane Esmond, one of his three daughters, won the Girls’ Golf Championship in 1926 at the age of 16!

The Esmonds lived at 54, avenue d’Iéna, in Paris, one of the most exclusive avenues on the right bank of Paris which feeds into the Place de l’Etoile where stands the “Arc de Triomphe.” Their immediate neighbor (52, avenue d’Iéna) was a colorful man by the name of Calouste Gulbenkian, Armenian-born oil tycoon and consummate art collector, who made his bed with the Germans in the early years of the German occupation of France before fleeing south due to his anglophile tendencies; he ended up in Portugal in late 1942 with the thousands of objects he collected that he was able to spirit out of German-occupied France.

Diane Esmond was born in 1910. Her passion, aside from golf,was art. While in Paris, she trained as a painter with Edouard MacAvoy and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. MacAvoy’s father was a banker and his mother descended from Huguenot nobility. Esmond developed a small following, worked closely with creative artists in the performing arts, and designed stage sets among other things. Pending further research, there are no indications that Esmond’s works were exhibited in galleries in Paris, either in group or solo shows.
Diane Esmond, n.d.

In 1940, the Esmonds fled Paris like so many others. Edouard Esmond died in 1945 and Diane returned to France in 1952. She enjoyed a resurgence as an artist and exhibited in a number of well-known venues in Paris and New York through the 50s and 60s. She died in France in 1981.

The Esmonds had the misfortune of living in a building—54, avenue d’Iéna—which the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) requisitioned to house its French headquartes. All residents of the building-mostly Jewish-had their apartments seized and emptied.

Dr. Wunder, a senior official of the ERR, the main Nazi plundering agency, stationed in Paris through 1943, led a raid on the Esmond residence and removed a large part of the Esmond art collection on June 5, 1941. At some point after their arrival, 13 of the 43 works were registered on ERR cards, 1 of which ended up on the “condemned”/vernichtet list. There is no explanation for why the rest of the Esmond items were not carded. Fifteen months later, on September 7, 1942, Dr. Tomforde, one of the ERR’s art specialists at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, inventoried 43 objects from the Esmond collection. Based on the Esmond family’s postwar restitution claim, we know that 12 paintings by 18th and 19th century artists were also removed from the family apartment. They included works by Oudry and Sir Alfred Munnings. The question is: who took them and where did they go? They definitely did not get processed at the Jeu de Paume. 
A page from the ESM inventory,
 Bundesarchiv, B323/270, Koblenz

All told, 55 works and objects of art were removed from the Esmond residence during the war. 47 were paintings (43 by Diane Esmond). 30 werecondemned—declared “vernichtet”—all of them works by Diane Esmond. 14 of the 43 paintings were photographed after their arrival at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, 7 of which ended up being stamped “vernichtet.” This gives us an opportunity to compare the works which were spared and those which were condemned in an attempt to understand the Nazi cultural standards used to select or condemn works of art confiscated from Jewish owners. The photographs were most likely taken shortly after their arrival at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex.

Let’s now try to divine the esthetic choices made by Dr. Tomforde.

The following works by Diane Esmond for which we have photographs were marked “vernichtet”. All of the photographs show the works on an easel, no effort being made to conceal the presence of the easel’s stand from the visual field:

ESM 5: Profile of a woman wearing a hat and a flower 

ESM 6: A still life with grapes. The photo of this painting features the easel on which it was placed.

ESM 19: A painter and his palette at work on a canvas.

ESM 20: Portrait of a “negro child”.

ESM 23: A woman wearing a white blouse. Painting on an easel..

ESM 26: A green landscape—perhaps leaning towards abstraction? The painting is on an easel.

ESM 27: A cabaret scene. Painting on easel

The following seven paintings by Esmond were spared and for which we have photographs. These photos have been cropped to conceal the presence of the easel:

ESM 18: Full-length portrait of a naked woman seen from behind.

ESM 24: A woman playing cards.

ESM 25: A woman with a monkey—however we can’t see the monkey; she is seated inside a well-appointed but cluttered living room staring into space.

ESM 28: A clown, seated on the ground, looking forlorn.

ESM 29: Men at a bar

ESM 30: A scene at the ballet

ESM 31: A clothed man viewed from behind.

What were the underlying Nazi cultural and esthetic standards that drove this apparently capricious selection? What explains the purge of Diane Esmond’s works?

Are we to assume that the selection [Selektion] which took place at the Jeu de Paume was an exercise in curatorial abuse? The only hint of Nazi ideology at work—in the form of racist tropes-could refer to ESM 5, ESM 20 and ESM 23, which portray individuals with “non-European” facial characteristics. In Nazi terms, they were not “Aryan.” However, it’s impossible to understand why a still life with grapes, a painting at work in his studio and a landscape could be assigned the “vernichtet” label while a scene of a woman playing cards, men at a bar, and a clown could be spared from destruction.

Your guess is as good as mine, but I would venture that the selection had little or nothing to do with Nazi cultural dogma, with the possible exception of the three works mentioned above.

Sources: the photographs come from Bundesarchiv, B323/853, in Koblenz, Germany.

08 January 2020

The fate of the collection of Alexandra Pregel, aka Avxente

Alexandra Pregel. 
by Marc Masurovsky

[This is the third installment of the series on the alleged destruction of works of art at the Jeu de Paume in wartime Paris by agents of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).]

The Auxente/Pregel collection (tagged as AUX by the ERR) consisted largely of works of art produced by a Finnish-born Jewish artist named Alexandra Pregel whose parents were Russian and lived in Helsinki. Ms. Pregel and her parents moved to Paris to feel from Czarist Russia. There, she studied art and began to show her works as of 1932-3, according to Dr. Gauchman, one of the leading experts on Alexandra Pregel’s work. She worked with such luminaries of the exiled Russian avant-garde community as Natalia Gontcharova. Her father had been a minister in the short-lived Kerensky government in 1917-1918. In his honor, she signed her works as Avxente, a contracted form of her patronymic surname, Avkensetev. The Nazis mis-transcribed her name as Auxente, which explains why her confiscated works are inventoried under that name. She took the Pregel name after marrying Boris Pregel in 1937 in Paris. He was a scientist interested in radio-activity. After her marriage, she signed her watercolors and paintings as Pregel.

The Pregels fled to New York in 1940 in advance of the German invasion of Western Europe. Their apartment which also served as Alexandra’s studio at 18, rue Auguste Vacquerie, in the tony 16th arrondissement of Paris. At some point on or before April 2, 1942, the Pregel residence was visited by Nazi agents belonging to the Dienststelle Westen (DW), under Kurt von Behr’s leadership, an off-shoot of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the main plundering agency in territories occupied by the Nazis. The DW had been established in early 1942 for the specific purpose of emptying out Jewish-owned or controlled residences in the Paris region, and, subsidiarily, in Belgian cities, under the aegis of the so-called Möbel-Aktion.

After its seizure, the Auxente/Alexandra Pregel collection was brought to a Dienststelle Westen locale somewhere in Paris. 12 days later, on April 14, 1942, the collection was brought to the Jeu de Paume by two individuals, Mssrs. Mader and Fleischer. As far as we can tell, Herr Mader was the deputy chief of operations for the ERR in Belgium, while Herr Fleischer was the right- hand man and aide-de-camp of Bruno Lohse at the Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris. Mader’s involvement with the Auxente collection transfer from the Dienststelle Westen to the Jeu de Paume cannot be readily explained since his main theater of operations was occupied Belgium. But it attests to the intimate links between the French and Belgian operations of the ERR. However, Fleischer’s presence speaks to Bruno Lohse’s interest in the seizure of Pregel’s works, most probably because of her and her husband’s intimate ties to the Russian emigré avant-garde circles, Jewish and non-Jewish, in Paris.

Six months later, on September 14, 1942, Frau Tomforde, one of two ERR staff members assigned to the inventorying of so-called “objectionable” or “degenerate” works stockpiled at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex [see Destruction of works of art, Parts one and two], signed off on the inventory of the Auxente collection. Judging by the paucity and dearth of descriptive information for more than 300 works confiscated by Ms. Pregel—ostensibly, the entire content of her studio--, Ms. Tomforde spent very little time rummaging through the dozens of portfolios containing Pregel’s watercolors and other works on paper. All works by Pregel earned the “vernichtet” label. In other words, all were condemned to be destroyed. Considering the brief titles given by Tomforde to Pregel’s works—still life, woman in red, landscape, etc.--, the decision to purge Pregel’s oeuvre smacks of pure ideological dogma, rather than esthetic considerations. If anything, Pregel was a figurative artist. Her only sin was to be born Jewish with Russian roots.
First page of ERR inventory for AUX.
Source: Bundesarchiv, B323/266
All told, the Auxente collection consisted of close to 370 objects—paintings, including stacks of rolled-up paintings that apparently were not even looked at during the inventorying process, watercolors and other works on paper. Thematically, we can deduce, based on the very terse one or two word descriptions, that they consisted largely of landscapes, portraits, interiors and still lives. Of the 370, 40 were relegated to the art market, leaving 330 condemned to the trash heap.

In sum, the purge of the Auxente/Pregel collection was near-total (90% of Pregel's pre-war production). Oddly enough, the one work not signed by Pregel/Avxente/Auxente was a portrait of noted pacifist author, Blaise Cendrars, attributed to Modigliani (Aux 267). Why was it condemned? Not so much because a Jewish artist painted it but perhaps because of Cendrars’ politics.

To add insult to injury, not a single work was photographed.

05 January 2020

The Destruction of works of art in wartime Paris-Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky

[Continuation of “The Destruction of works of art in wartime Paris-Part One”]

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) staff members at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex inventoried from July 1942 to March 1943 625 paintings, 48 works on paper, 2 sculptures and one object of unknown media which they deemed objectionable, in that they did not comply with the new standards of Nazi cultural policy, esthetically and thematically, defined by the unholy ideological trinity of the Third Reich—Adolf Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg and Joseph Goebbels. 

Inventories of these “objectionable” works were drawn up in four different periods: 
July 17-30, 1942, 
September 7-14, 1942, 
November 9-17, 1942, 
February-March 12, 1943. 

After the inventories were drawn up, the 676 “condemned” objects were re-crated and transferred to the Louvre storage area (Séquestre du Louvre) to await their fate. On July 21, 1943, they were allegedly lacerated and/or burned to a crisp in a day-long bonfire.

Two ERR staff members were in charge of this reclassification process: Ms. Helga Eggemann and Dr. Tomforde. It is not clear whether they also were charged with attributing the “vernichtet” [to be destroyed] label to these works or if that decision was made at a higher echelon of the ERR administration. Still, the two never saw eye to eye and were bitter rivals. The former was closely aligned with Bruno Lohse, deputy commander of the ERR at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, while Dr. Tomforde had thrown her lot with her married lover, Dr. von Ingram, chief of operations at the Jeu de Paume who eventually left his first wife to marry Ms. Tomforde, which earned him a quick transfer to the Bavarian ERR depot of Füssen.

As a general reminder, 21 (8.17%) out of 257 Jewish collections officially “processed” by the ERR at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex contained one or more objects deemed objectionable by ERR staff. Those collections most severely affected by Nazi cultural prohibitions were those of four Jewish artists: 

Fedor Loewenstein (100%), 
Alexandra Pregel (83%), 
Michel Georges-Michel (76.5%), 
Diana Esmond-ESM (55%).

This particular phase of execution of Nazi cultural standards at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex affected as a whole the works of 74 artists distributed among four distinct groups (Gruppe(n)). Since there are no policy documents produced by the ERR staff to explain this desire to reclassify the works of “objectionable” artists, I will do my best to present it to you.

Gruppe I
Gruppe I was exclusively concerned with artists who worked in France throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries; none of their works were targeted for destruction. All told, 307 works produced by 87 artists ranging from Delacroix to Ziem and Cross, were consigned to Gruppe I. One third were confiscated during the massive sweeps through Jewish residences under the guise of M-Aktion starting in early 1942, half of which were eventually relegated to the Parisian art market. 60% of the Gruppe I works were shipped to the ERR depot of Nikolsburg in present-day Mikulov, Czech Republic. Only 30 returned to France after 1945.

Gruppe II
Gruppe II was sub-divided into four sub-groups: IIa, IIb, IIc, IId.

Gruppe IIa
470 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIa”. 20 were condemned which came out of the following collections: ESM [Esmond], MA-B, KAP (Kapferer), Loewell (Pierre Loewell), KA (Alphonse Kann), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners) Ros Bern (Rosenberg-Bernstein-Bordeaux), R (Rothschild family). Artists in Gruppe IIa whose works were condemned included: R Dufy, De la Fresnaye, Foujita, Laprade, Larimov/Larionov, Marie Laurencin, Pablo Picasso, Suzanne Valadon, van Dongen.

Gruppe IIb
510 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIb.” 306 (60%) were condemned which came out of the following collections: MGM (Michel Georges-Michel), PE (Hugo Perls), Reichenbach (Bernard and François Reichenbach), ESM (Esmond), Rosenberg Paris (Paul Rosenberg-Paris), Loewell (Pierre Loewell), Spiro (Eugen Spiro), DW (David David-Weill). Artists in Gruppe IIb whose works were condemned included: Charbonnier, Sandi da Salo, Michel Georges-Michel, Girieud, Hummel, Levy, Loewell, Jacqueline Marval, Massis?, HM [maybe Henri Matisse], Mizerour/Mzerow, Hélène Perdriat, Francis Picabia, Retat.

Gruppe Iic
70 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIc.” Three were condemned which came out of the following collections: MA-B, Watson (Peter Watson), KAP (Kapferer). Artists in Gruppe IIc whose works were condemned included: André Masson, Philippe Pereire, Pablo Picasso.

Gruppe IId
70 objects were classified as “Gruppe IId.” 48 were condemned which came out of the following collections: KA (Alphonse Kann), Rosenberg Paris (Paul Rosenberg-Paris), R (Rothschild family), HS (Hugo Simon), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners), Watson (Peter Watson). Artists in Gruppe IId was heavily slanted towards abstractionists and surrealists; it included: Hans Arp, Beaudin, Borès, Charlot, Dali, Derain, Emil?, Max Ernst, Brion Gysin, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, André Masson, Juan Miro, Papazov, Pablo Picasso, E. Ronny, Yves Tanguy.

Gruppe III
36 objects were classified as “Gruppe III.” 18 were condemned which came out of the following collections: KA (Alphonse Kann), MA-B, HS (Hugo Simon), R (Rothschild family), Watson (Peter Watson). Artists in Gruppe III whose works were condemned belonged almost exclusively to a German expressionist club and included: Ernst Barlach, Willy Jaeckel, Erich Heckel, Paul Klee, Larimov/Larionov, Ludwig Meidner, Max Pechstein, Oscar Peters, Christian Rohlfs

Gruppe IV
29 objects were classified as “Gruppe IV.” All 29 were condemned which came out of the following collections: Loewell (Pierre Loewell), Lowenstein (Fedor Lowenstein), KA (Alphonse Kann), R (Rothschild family), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners). Artists in Gruppe IV whose works were condemned consisted of Surrealists, Cubists, Symbolists and Jewish artists: Salvador Dali, J.M.Fenier, Gassier, Lehmann, Loewell, Fedor Lowenstein, Pruna, Prunière, Odilon Redon, Sem.

Several artists like Salvador Dali, André Masson, Pablo Picasso and others ended up in several groups, which might indicate that the ERR staff responsible for this classification system relied more on the content and esthetic mechanics of the works themselves than on the identity and label of the artist whose works were impugned. Put another way, Jewish identity was not enough to have your work “condemned.” Other factors were considered when deciding what to “destroy” and what to spare.

In Part three, I will address specific collections and try to grasp the logic behind the “purge.”

Sources: Bundesarchiv, B323 series at Koblenz; ERR Jeu de Paume database

03 January 2020

The destruction of works of art in wartime Paris--Part One

by Marc Masurovsky

This is the first in a series of articles detailing the selective impact of Nazi cultural policy at the Jeu de Paume museum between September 1940 and July 1944. During that time period, the Jeu de Paume served as a central clearinghouse for artistic, cultural and religious objects confiscated from Jewish collectors in Paris and other parts of France.

One nagging question which has not received an adequate answer is the extent to which Nazi cultural policies, strictly enforced inside the Greater German Reich, were equally applied in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

If Adolf Hitler’s views about art were to be followed to the letter, any artistic object produced after the 1850s (emergence of Impressionism) would be subjected to intense scrutiny by Nazi agents operating in occupied lands, leading inevitably to seizure and confiscation (which happened in any event), censorship (recurrent but not systematic), and/or destruction.

Let’s focus on German-occupied France. There, the machinery of cultural plunder operated as follows.

Jewish collections of objects of cultural, religious and artistic value and significance became the target of confiscations orchestrated by a number of Nazi agencies, most notably the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Kunstchutz (cultural arm of the German military administration) and assorted security agencies and police forces (Devisenschutzkommando, Gestapo, SD, etc).

Tens of thousands of objects seized in and around Paris, sometimes from as far as cities and towns in the French Southwest, were stored in a number of facilities and depots scattered about the French capital but mostly centered in its wealthier Western neighborhoods, the most important of which was the cluster comprised of the Jeu de Paume museum and three rooms provided by the Louvre Museum as a storage annex to the Jeu de Paume.

At least 20000 confiscated objects were transferred to the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex beween 1940-1944. There, roughly 25 per cent of them were photographed, eh vast majority were inventoried, carded and assigned an ID number. ERR staff members decided which objects to transfer to the Reich, which ones should remain in occupied France and which ones should be sold and/or exchanged for “acceptable” works, namely Old Masters.

In order for the staff members of the ERR at the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume to implement Nazi cultural policies, they had to set aside those objects which did not conform to official esthetic and ideological dicta which distinguished between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” or “degenerate” art. Hitler even insisted that no French Impressionist works could enter the German Reich, irrespective of quality and value.

What happened to the objects that were set aside? Two scenarios were contemplated: either offer them for sale to local art dealers and perhaps even dealers in neighboring countries (Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain), or destroy them.

In July 1942, almost two years after the Germans invaded France, works of art not meeting Hitler’s strict esthetic and ideological considerations were inventoried separately, some of them having wallowed at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex since late 1940. They were subjected to a separate inventory, reassigned to new categories (Gruppe I, Gruppe II, Gruppe III, Gruppe IV), and crated separately while their fate was being decided. That process lasted until March 1943. At some point during or after this process, a decision was made to get rid of these objects after having gone through the tedium of inventorying and crating.

At least 625 paintings, 48 works on paper, two sculptures (one by Ernst Barlach and the other by Hans Arp) and one of uncertain medium (Friedrich Unger) were set aside and inventoried. Rose Valland, a French curator ordered by Louvre officials to remain at the Jeu de Paume to be the eyes and ears of the French museum administration inside the very museum where she had spent her days prior to June 1940, testified after the war that ERR staff members destroyed these objects by repeated laceration and cremated them with the help of German soldiers in a day-long bonfire on July 21, 1943. Although she witnessed some of the lacerations, she did not witness the bonfire.

The jury is still out about the bonfire having consumed hundreds of “unacceptable” works of art.

After having carefully examined the archival documentation that retraces in minute details the processing of these objects at the Jeu de Paume, we know the following:

-None of the works classified as Impressionist, Pointillist, or Fauvist, were condemned and “destroyed”.

-No work explicitly tagged as “Jude” [Jewish] by artists like Camille Pissarro and Marc Chagall was condemned and “destroyed”.

In other words, Nazi cultural policy somewhat fell apart at this moment and shifted gears, judging “unacceptable” works by their esthetic value and not by the origins of their creators.

Of the 257 collections which were carded and/or inventoried at the Jeu de Paume, 21 collections contained one or more objects which were deliberately set aside for “destruction” (vernichtet).

ERR ID                          Description of collection                                 Numbers “destroyed”

Aux                                   Auxente/Avxente/Alexandra Pregel                                  181
DW                                   David David-Weill                                                                 1
ESM                                  Edouard Esmond                                                                 30
HS                                     Hugo Simon                                                                         12
KA                                    Alphonse Kann                                                                     25
KAP                                  Mrs. Kapferer                                                                         6
L.H                                    Levi-Hermannos                                                                    1
Loewell                             Pierre Loewell                                                                        8
Loewenstein                      Fedor Loewenstein                                                               20
MA-B                                Möbel-Aktion Bilder                                                            13
MGM                                 Michel Georges-Michel                                                     298
PE                                      Hugo Perls                                                                              5
Reichenbach                      François Reichenbach                                                            1
Rosenberg Bernstein         Paul Rosenberg [Bordeaux area]                                            1
Rosenberg Paris                 Paul Rosenberg [Floirac/Paris]                                            14
R                                Members of the French branch of the Rothschild family               8
Spira                                   Mr. Spira                                                                                 1
Spiro                                   Eugen Spiro                                                                          18
U                                         Friedrich Unger                                                                      4
UNB                                   Unbekannt                                                                             18
Watson                               Peter Watson                                                                            9

In Part two, we wil begin the discussion of each collection and the artists who did not make the cut, so to speak.

Records from the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 260
Records of the Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, series B323

Generic plunder

by Marc Masurovsky

Happy New Year!

On Day 3 of the year 2020, please allow me to reiterate the age-old idea that plunder in all its forms, regardless of who or what orders, orchestrates and implements such an act, has existed for a very long time as an extension of military, political, and economic power over “the others.”

The act of plunder reached its apogee, so we have been taught, in the 20th century, at the hands of the Nazi German State. The geographical scope of that act of plunder extended throughout most of the European continental mass. Although largely minimized and marginalized in the post-1945 period because nothing could compare to the astronomical loss of human life at the hands of the Nazis and their local agents, plunder remains stuck as a sideshow of the Holocaust, which entailed the loss, under the most galling and frighteningly horrific conditions, of six million men, women and children of the Jewish faith.

I’d like to propose that we expand plunder and its nauseating consequences to other exercises of military and economic power exercised across the globe which have accompanied mass slaughter and genocide, and consider, for a minute or two, whether those acts of State-sponsored thievery constitute crimes against humanity, crimes against culture, violations of the most basic human rights that every man, woman and child is entitled to from birth to death.

Here is a brief recapitulation of these extraordinary events that have littered the fabric of humanity for the past several hundred years.

1/ Imperial Japan vs. Korea, China and the rest of the Asian mainland, from the close of the 19th century to the unconditional surrender of Japan in August 1945.

2/ White settlers from European States (regardless of their make-up—autocracies, kingdoms, empires, etc.) vs. indigenous populations and communities in the Americas (North, Central, and South), Oceania (New Zealand and Australia), the many islands of the Pacific Ocean—forgive me if I have omitted some. Over time, intra-continental plunder by the "new" States founded by "white settlers" against their indigenous populations and minority groups.

3/ Western European nations vs. indigenous communities of what we know as the continent of Africa,  Asia (to include the "Middle East"), the “Indian sub-continent,” and South Asia.

4/ “market nations” vs. “source nations”: I hesitate here but must acknowledge the fact that this particular dyad encapsulates all that is wrong, unethical, and contemptible about how resource and capital-rich States have wielded military and economic power against those nations less equipped to fend them off and exploited, extracted, and stole outright anything of value held in those “source nations” either above or under ground.

In short, the act of plunder has provided the fuel and the infrastructure necessary to supply and nurture art markets far away from the point of extraction, the precondition for such an operation being that anything coming from “source nations” must be commodified as “art”, as “culturally-significant”, as "valuable" and as “museum-worthy.”  The growth of the international art market marched in lockstep with plunder. One part of the world abuses the rest of the world to satisfy selfish, materialistic ends, which, I admit, have fostered astonishing institutions called museums, but at an unacceptable cost.

We are at a point in the narrative of history where the cost of such policies and their wonderful products--museums and galleries--must be accounted for and dealt with in an unremittingly honest and truthful way by those who hold, peddle, profit from, and “care” for the objects that have found their way against the will of their rightful owners to commodity markets for the appreciation and enjoyment of individuals who will, likely, never visit the “source” of those objects except as a tourist.

This process cannot succeed without the active participation of those who have been subjected to such acts and found their claims for recovery minimized, marginalized, and, in many cases, transformed into commercial and strategic negotiations which, under the guise of benefiting the victim, actually work in favor of the culprits.

Who is courageous enough to take the first step and fix this endemic global problem?

My New Year's resolution is for these "other" acts of plunder to be granted their just space and to be addressed ethically and truthfully so that our concept of culture and cultural rights can adapt to the new reality which requires the truth-telling of how objects enter market nations and their prized institutions. We owe it to ourselves, the public, this and the forthcoming generations, as well as to that thing called "humanity." Anything less is an act of inhumanity.