Holocaust Artwork: The Return
Even 65+ years later we are still breaking news about the travesties that WWII brought to this planet. Earlier this month I ran across two articles that discussed the pillage of artwork during the war by the nazi’s and Russians. The first article was about a recent visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Moscow. The Hermitage had invited Merkel to speak at the grand opening of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Putin’s administration got wind that Merkel would speak about how the German government has strived to right the wrongs of the Nazi’s and she planned to highlight the fact that many russian museums and the government both still have stolen artwork in their position. The museum cancelled the opening! Don’t worry Merkel was not looking so rosey after the article was published. Later that week she too got a little mud in her eye.
The second article was about 80 year old Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich who was recently the subject of a German tax evasion probe back in early 2012. The prosecutors office performed a raid of Gurlitt’s apartment to access the value of his personal property and were shocked to find the apartment contained over 1400 pieces of work of art. Turns out that Gurlitt’s father worked with the Nazi’s to sell off all of the “degenerate” art (by artists like Picasso, Munch, Dix, Matisse and many other) that was seized during WWII. The controversy about this raid, the german tax authority did not report the find to such agencies like the Claim Conference or other holocaust organizations across the globe for a year and half.
What’s crazy is that Gurlitt actually sold a piece from his collection during the year and half that the German government found the haul and finally seized it all last month. Max Beckmann’s “Lion Tamer, Circus” was labeled destroyed by many holocaust databases. Gurlitt sold the piece was sold at Cologne auction house for 1.17 million. Some reports say this piece was actually the red flag that alerted the German government.
The database of the pieces have been released and already many families, museums, trusts and governments are already claiming pieces that were stolen. One the most amazing things about this find, were the 18 original Toulouse-Lautrec pieces in this man’s collection. I immediately remembered a discussion in a art class about how most of Henri’s artwork was destroyed or confiscated by the Nazi’s. To see 18 pieces alive and well today is truly astonishing. Sadly this find is starting to shed some light that Gurlitt family might have been issuing prints of the originals illegally.
What’s amazing is how the German’s still believe they are doing right thing but holding important details like works of art that were pilfered by their government 60+ years ago, is not that important. It’s nice to see that we are slowly finding out lost pieces still exist and are not destroyed as originally documented. There is still hope that pieces like “En Canot” by Jean Metzinger (one of the earliest cubists pieces in history) may still be out there waiting to be discovered.
I’ve taken a great interest in this sad chapter history because I have fallen in love with several artists that were labeled degenerate and I own several pieces by like artist like Max Beckmann, Max Ernst and Paul Klee to name a few. One of the earliest movements to be labeled degenerate and one my the movements that truly love was DaDa. Over the past couple of years I have found a few pieces for our collection, including one piece done by key figure of the DaDa movement who only had a few pieces survive after the Nazi’s destroyed many of his works. It’s really refreshing to see and hear about this new finds, because there is hope for those many piece
The Nazi’s took a lot of offense of Gustav Klimt’s work, it is estimated that they destroyed 14 paintings by the designer, like this piece “ Musik II” from 1898.
Here are two of the organizations that are helping recover lost possesions from WWI.