Nazi-looted paint­ing to be auc­tioned

The China Post - - ARTS - BY RUTH HOLMES

A Nazi-looted paint­ing that was hid­den for decades is be­ing auc­tioned by Sotheby’s Wed­nes­day in a rare sale as in­ves­ti­ga­tors work painstak­ingly to iden­tify the ori­gins of hun­dreds of other works from the same haul.

Max Lieber­mann’s “Two Riders on a Beach” was found among more than 1,200 works of art in the Mu­nich apart­ment of Ger­man recluse Cor­nelius Gurlitt when po­lice raided it in 2012, cap­tur­ing global at­ten­tion.

The 1901 oil paint­ing, which is ex­pected to fetch up to 550,000 pounds ( US$625,000), is the first from the Gurlitt col­lec­tion to be auc­tioned off.

“The chal­lenge is to go through the prove­nance of ev­ery sin­gle pic­ture in this col­lec­tion,” Sotheby’s di­rec­tor Bern­hard Brand­staet­ter said.

“It is a lengthy process to es­tab­lish where a pic­ture comes from, when it was bought and so on,” he said, de­scrib­ing the col­lec­tion as “prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant find in the last 30 years.”

Richard Aronowitz, Euro­pean head of resti­tu­tion for Sotheby’s, de­scribed the Lieber­mann paint­ing as a “scene of great tran­quil­ity and joy in na­ture,” adding: “This coun­ter­bal­ances the great sad­ness and trauma of the work’s history.”

Wed­nes­day’s auc­tion also in­cludes a Gus­tav Klimt por­trait lost to Jewish own­ers dur­ing the Nazi regime that is be­ing sold af­ter the res­o­lu­tion of a dis­pute be­tween de­scen­dants of the artist and the sub­ject.

The paint­ing is es­ti­mated to go for up to 18 mil­lion pounds.

He­lena New­man, Sotheby’s co­head of im­pres­sion­ist and mod­ern Art, de­scribed it as “one of his finest por­traits to ap­pear at auc­tion in over 20 years.”

‘Dis­ap­peared from public view’

David Toren, one of sev­eral heirs of the Lieber­mann paint­ing, was just 13 when he saw the pic­ture be­ing taken by the Nazis from the es­tate of his great-un­cle David Fried­mann in 1938, the day af­ter Kristall­nacht.

Now, aged 90 and blind, Toren said he is un­able to ap­pre­ci­ate the paint­ing, re­turned af­ter a le­gal bat­tle as the Ger­man gov­ern­ment still seeks to es­tab­lish the prove­nance of other works in the hoard.

Paint­ings by Pi­casso, Manet and Cha­gall were among a huge trove dis­cov­ered when Ger­man po­lice raided Gurlitt’s unas­sum­ing apart­ment in Mu­nich.

The Nazis plun­dered art­works in Ger­many and across Europe be­fore and dur­ing World War II.

Thou­sands of stolen art­works have since been re­turned to their own­ers or their de­scen­dants, but many more have never resur­faced.

The Lieber­mann paint­ing was sold by the Nazis, end­ing up in the hands of Hilde­brand Gurlitt, an art dealer tasked by Hitler to plun­der works from mu­se­ums and Jewish col­lec­tors.

The works were in­her­ited by his son Cor­nelius, who him­self died last year.

“Since then it has dis­ap­peared from public view,” said Brand­staet­ter. “What’s so sur­pris­ing is that it was hid­den away for so long.

“When it ar­rived here it was very dirty. You could see it had not been cared for. Many of the things Cor­nelius Gurlitt had in his house were just stuck some­where, be­hind cup­boards or un­der beds.”

It is one of only two paint­ings from the Gurlitt stash to be re­turned to their own­ers.

The Kun­st­mu­seum Bern is work­ing with Ger­man author­i­ties to find other right­ful own­ers — but faces a la­bo­ri­ous task.

Friederike Sch­welle, man­ager of prove­nance re­search and resti­tu­tion at the Art Loss Register, said the Gurlitt find prompted many peo­ple to come for­ward be­liev­ing they had claims to paint­ings from the haul.

“Lo­cat­ing heirs can be quite dif­fi­cult be­cause some per­ished dur­ing the Holo­caust and oth­ers have since died,” she said, adding that is was “very dif­fi­cult to say” how much art was looted by the Nazis over­all.

“Peo­ple sus­pect there might still be about 100,000 ob­jects out there that might be in­volved in Nazi loot­ing that are still miss­ing.”

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