‘It’s out there some­where.’ Fam­ily hire art sleuths to find De­gas looted by Nazis

De­scen­dants of Jewish art dealer hope to solve mystery of the plun­dered paint­ing

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward

Some­body, some­where knows its lo­ca­tion. But the one man who could help is re­fus­ing to talk. Por­trait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot (1890), a paint­ing by Edgar De­gas, hung above the desk of a renowned Jewish art dealer at his Paris gallery un­til 1940 when, along with nu­mer­ous other works, it was con­fis­cated by the Nazis.

Now, the de­scen­dants of Paul Rosen­berg have hired Lon­don­based art de­tec­tives to try to re­cover it, al­most 60 years af­ter the art dealer’s death. “It’s not im­pos­si­ble that some­body has seen it,” said Marianne Rosen­berg, Paul’s grand­daugh­ter. “We re­serve the right to seek re­course to the law in all ju­ris­dic­tions.”

Paul Rosen­berg, a pa­tron to both Henri Matisse and Pablo Pi­casso, whom he af­fec­tion­ately called “Pic”, kept metic­u­lous records of the works in his keeping, a prac­tice that has greatly helped his fam­ily over the years in its quest to re­claim them. Of the 400 or so works looted from his gallery, only 65 have yet to be re­cov­ered, ac­cord­ing to Marianne.

Many of the pieces were loaded on to a train that was stopped out­side Paris in Au­gust 1944 by a unit of the Free French forces led by Lieu­tenant Alexan­dre Rosen­berg, Paul Rosen­berg’s son, an in­ter­ven­tion de­picted in the 1964 film The Train, star­ring Burt Lan­caster.

But the 1890 De­gas was not among them, and its where­abouts since the theft by the Nazis have been a mystery. The paint­ing first resur­faced in 1974, when a Ham­burg-based art dealer, Mathias Hans, is said to have bro­kered its sale to a Swiss buyer. It next ap­peared in December 1987, when Elaine Rosen­berg, Paul Rosen­berg’s daugh­ter-in-law, found it in an art mag­a­zine, listed for sale by the Hans Gallery in Ham­burg. When she con­tacted the gallery to say that it had been looted, Hans said con­fi­den­tial­ity rules pre­vented him from dis­clos­ing who pos­sessed it.

Fur­ther at­tempts to sell the pic­ture were made, through in­ter­me­di­aries in Den­mark, Ger­many, Cal­i­for­nia, New York and Venice, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors hired by the Rosen­berg fam­ily.

At one stage, Hans sug­gested the fam­ily pay com­pen­sa­tion of €3m, which in­censed Marianne Rosen­berg. “If you buy a paint­ing from a dealer

‘Some of the pic­tures may have been seen as very avant garde and burned. But the quest goes on’

Marianne Rosen­berg

and it turns out the paint­ing is ei­ther stolen or fake, it is mar­ket prac­tice that the dealer must re­im­burse you,” she said. “So if the per­son is claim­ing com­pen­sa­tion, the per­son to com­pen­sate him is Mr Hans.”

Of all the works plun­dered from Rosen­berg’s Paris gallery, the looted De­gas – de­scribed by Marianne Rosen­berg as “ex­quis­ite” – has proved the most dif­fi­cult to re­cover.

The Ger­man govern­ment signed up to the Wash­ing­ton Prin­ci­ples, 20 years old next month, which oblige the au­thor­i­ties to help re­turn art­works stolen by the Nazis to their right­ful own­ers, and its cul­ture min­istry did con­tact Hans re­quest­ing his co­op­er­a­tion.

How­ever, Christo­pher Marinello, founder of Venice-based Art Re­cov­ery In­ter­na­tional, rep­re­sent­ing the Rosen­berg heirs, says it could have gone fur­ther: “There is so much more the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties could in­ves­ti­gate here, in­clud­ing pur­chase, tax and ex­port records. Ger­many is not only re­spon­si­ble for the ac­tions of their pre­de­ces­sors, but re­spon­si­ble for the stan­dards it pro­jects to­day. When the govern­ment doesn’t lead by ex­am­ple, it gives the art mar­ket an ex­cuse to do the bare min­i­mum in halt­ing the trade in looted art­work.”

In a state­ment to the Ob­server,

Hans ac­cused Marinello of in­tim­i­da­tion, and of set­ting the “en­tire press ma­chin­ery” on him. “I am very sorry that the Rosen­berg fam­ily suf­fered in­jus­tice un­der the Nazi regime. I am also very sorry that I could not ob­tain the re­turn of the por­trait, but I have al­ways acted as a me­di­a­tor.”

Hans added that the de­ci­sion about what to do with the paint­ing was not his to make, and that he would not say who now pos­sessed the paint­ing.

Marianne Rosen­berg said she was hope­ful the fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to go pub­lic with their re­quest for the re­turn of the De­gas might now jog some­one’s mem­ory. She stressed their com­mit­ment to re­triev­ing all paint­ings stolen by the Nazis: “The quest for th­ese pic­tures goes on as it has done for three generations now. Whether they all sur­vived is open to ques­tion. Some of them may have been per­ceived as very avant garde, and burned, and some may have been vic­tims of un­for­tu­nate war ac­ci­dents but I’m sure a large per­cent­age are out there some­where. They may be in mu­se­ums or pri­vate col­lec­tions. Who knows?”

Art Re­cov­ery In­ter­na­tional Ar­chives Paul Rosen­berg & Co

LEFT Por­trait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot, by Edgar De­gas, stolen by the Nazis in 1940. ABOVE Paris art dealer Paul Rosen­berg with Odal­isque, 1937, by Henri Matisse.

UA Rex

LEFTBurt Lan­caster in The Train, which tells how stolen art was re­taken from the Nazis. BE­LOW Her­mann Go­er­ing or­dered the loot­ing of thou­sands of art­works.

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