October 18, 2010

Lucas Cranach the Elder's "Adam" and "Eve" diptych subject of Marei Von Saher vs. The Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena (Part I)

Cranach's "Adam",
Norton Simon Museum
By Catherine Schofield Sezgin

First of a two part series

While his close friend Martin Luther “often preached about the fall of man and its consequences” (Norton Simon Museum audio tour), the German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder painted more than 30 works of the naked Adam and Eve contemplating a bite of the forbidden apple and expulsion from Paradise. The "Adam" and "Eve" diptych residing at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, is the subject of controversy 500 years later in a Holocaust art-restitution case (Marei Von Saher vs. The Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena). The heir of a Jewish art dealer, Jacques Goudstikker, has claimed that Hitler’s second-in-command, Herman Göring, stole “Adam” and “Eve” in 1940 and that the Dutch government wrongly transferred the paintings to the heir of a Russian aristocratic family in a purported sale, who then sold the works to wealthy industrialist Norton Simon in 1971.

Cranach's "Eve",
Norton Simon
The Norton Simon Museum’s “Adam” and “Eve”, painted on two large wood panels measuring 75 x 27 ½ inches, likely started out as decorating the home of a wealthy member of the royal court in the 16th century although it would end up in a Church in Kiev by the 20th century. The scope of this article does not track down all of the 30 versions “Adam and Eve” neither does it explain how the Norton Simon Museum’s painting came to travel to the Ukraine in the 1920s. However, a quick review of public institutions through the Getty Provenance Index Databases shows that smaller, paintings of the first couple have been in the collections of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and at the Art Institute of Chicago. The diptych on display in Chicago has resided there since 1935 after Charles H. Worcester purchased it on September 10, 1935 from Jacques Goudstikker of Amsterdam before donating it to the museum in the same year. It is believed that Goudstikker purchased Chicago’s “Adam” and “Eve” from a private collection in Stockholm.1

Jacques Goudstikker, a third-generation art dealer in Amsterdam, owned more than one of the thirty paintings by Cranach of “Adam” and “Eve”. He was a specialist in Old Master paintings and had produced shows that featured works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Goya, Rubens, and Hieronymus Bosch. He purchased a larger diptych of “Adam” and “Eve” by Cranach the Elder for $11,186 at an auction in Berlin in 1931. The auction featured works previously owned by the Stroganoff family in St. Petersburg. However, in 1917, the Bolshevik government had nationalized all art held in private collections and to raise money in 1931, the Russian government put the artworks up for sale.

The Stroganov Collection

Count Aleksandr Sergeevich Stroganov (1733-1811), an art patron and a member of the court of Catherine the Great, acquired most of his art at Paris auctions from 1769 to 1779. He catalogued them in published editions in 1793 and 1800. In the mid-19th century, Count Sergei Grigoryevitch added to the Stroganoff Collection by acquiring many 15th century Italian paintings. In 1864, German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen described the Stroganov Collection when he assisted the Hermitage in sorting their collection. In 1901, Alexander Benois described the Stroganoff palace and gallery in Les Trésors d’Art en Russie.2 The Stroganoff Collection was displayed in the gallery of the family palace in St. Petersburg until it was moved to safety in Moscow during the Revolution. Eventually, it was returned to Leningrad.

Soviet artworks were not all from the Stroganoff Collection

The catalogue of the auction of the Stroganoff Collection at Rudolph Lepke’s Kunst-Auctions-Haus in Berlin, included an essay by James Schmidt who wrote that pictures from sources other than the Stroganoff Collection were included in the sale. Schmidt provided “a summary overview” of paintings offered for sale at the auction that were not from the Stroganoff Collection. He listed Rembrandt’s “Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well” from the Hermitage; Claude Lorrain’s “Morning” and “Ulysses at Lycomedes’ Court”; Van Dyck’s “Bishop Malderus”; Nicholaus Neufchatel’s “Patrician Woman from Nuremberg”; and Artus van der Neers’ “Moonlight Landscape”. Schmidt also cited Goyens’ “View of Arnheim Across the Rhine” from the Semenov-Tianshansky collection acquired by the Hermitage in 1912. Then, in the next paragraph, Schmidt wrote: “The remaining paintings from other sources include primarily “Adam and Eve” by Cranach, which were discovered in a Kiev church and can be dated to between 1525 and 1530.”

“Adam” and “Eve” are believed to have been at the Church of Holy Trinity in Kiev, Ukraine until the early 1920s when they were sent to a state-owned Kiev museum at Kievo Pecherskaia Lawra Monastery. Then in 1927, they were transferred to the Museum of the Ukrainian Academy of Science in Kiev before they were included in the Berlin sale in 1931.

Provenance Research

The Getty Provenance Research Database notes in its records on the “Adam” and “Eve” diptych at the Norton Simon Museum: “There is reason to doubt, however, that the Cranach paintings had actually belonged to the Stroganoff family and been confiscated during the Russian Revolution, as previously believed. First, other collections were included in the 1931 Lepke sale. According to an annotation by Ellis Waterhouse in a copy of the catalogue of the sale now in the GRI [Getty Research Institute], “Not a very large proportion of the pictures really came from the Stroganoff coll(ection). The rest are drawn from other sequestrated private collections & from the Hermitage depot.” The Getty also notes that Cranach’s Adam and Eve do not appear in earlier references to the Stroganoff collection.

This blogger has sent a request to the Norton Simon Museum for more information about the provenance of their paintings and looks forward reporting their reply.

2. Waagen published a book on the Hermitage collection (Munich, 1864). Waagen traveled to St. Petersburg in 1861. Schmidt’s essay, May 1931.


Did you ever get the provenance report you requested? I'm writing a paper on this case and could use the information if you have it.

Amy This case is still pending so you may be able to find the provenance records as part of the formal public records of the appeal. U.S. District Judge John Walter has tentatively set March 29, 2016, as the opening day for a trial in a case that's already gone on for eight years. Walter had originally tossed out Von Saher’s lawsuit twice before during the long-running legal fight only to be reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. You can find part of what you are looking for on the link below but there will likely be a formal provenance report in the earlier court proceedings.


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