November 5, 2013

Tuesday, November 05, 2013 - , No comments

Kunsthaus Lempertz: The auction house used by the Beltracchi forgery gang, Cornelius Gurlitt, and for liquidating Jewish-owned art galleries during the Nazi-era

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Journalist Alison Smale wrote for The New York Times in Berlin in "Report of Nazi-Looted Trove Puts Art World in an Uproar" that the auction house Kunsthau Lempertz was surprised to discover more information about the million dollar Max Beckmann painting they had sold in 2011. These are the first three paragraphs of Ms. Smale's article:
BERLIN - There was no hint that the older man who called a couple of years back about selling a picture could be sitting on an unimaginable trove of art confiscated or banned by the Nazis. When the proffered work, "Lion Tamer" by the German artist Max Beckmann, was collected, the seller seemed to be a proper gentleman in Munich dispensing with a lone, dusty art gem at the end of his life. 
It was a "fantastic picture," recalled Karl-Sax Feddersen of the Cologne auction house Lempertz, who noted how pleased the auction house team was with the auction price: 864,000 euros, or $1.17 million. 
When he learned on Monday that the Beckmann seller, Cornelius Gurlitt, now 80, had reportedly sat on hundreds of works, including art by Picasso and Matisse, that were confiscated under the Nazis or sold cheaply by owners desperate to flee Hitler, Mr. Feddersen was amazed. "Imagine!" he said, envisaging seeing and selling such a collection.

According to Catherine Hinkley of Bloomberg, Beckmann's "Lion Tamer" belonged to Alfred Flechtheim whose heirs settled with Cornelius Gurlitt before the Lempertz auction in October 2011. Kunsthaus Lempertz is described as one of the leading art auction houses in Europe. This Cologne auction house is associated with another story covered in the ARCA blog: the Beltracchi forgery case. In October 2011, Catherine Hinkley reported for Bloomberg that the convicted forger Wolfgang Beltracchi had used the Kunsthaus Lempertz:
The Cologne auction house Kunsthaus Lempertz said in January that it had sold five of the forger's works. The authenticity of all of them "was confirmed by leading experts and some of them were subsequently shown in a number of museums." 
"My colleagues and I, like the whole art market, were deceived by the highly skilled and professional operations of the forgers," Lempertz chief executive Henrick Hanstein wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in July.
In 2011 Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years, and his wife Helene to four. Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, an accomplice was sentenced to five years, while Helene's sister Jeanette was given a suspended sentence for their roles in selling $14 million in forged paintings.

In a radio interview with the BBC on November 4, Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project explained the role of the Lempertz auction house in Cologne during the Nazi-era. Max Stern, Epstein explains, inherited a gallery established by his father in 1913 in Dusseldorf.
When Max Stern entered the scene in 1934 he had about one year before he started receiving letters from the Chamber of Fine Art in Germany advising him that due to his Jewish persuasion he was no longer permitted to transact as an art dealer. For the following three years, Max Stern was forced, under duress, to liquidate his family gallery and effectively consign the final pieces from the gallery and family collection to an auction house in Cologne, Germany, called Lempertz, which at that time was transacting what was called "Jew sales" (NOTE:  "jew sales is the interviewee's translation for “Judenauktionen”) for what was the final act of business of the Gallery Stern in that city.

Addendum, 27 August 2017

On August 29, 1935 German-Jewish art dealer Max Stern received a letter from the president of the Reichskammer der bildenden K√ľnste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts) (“RKdbK”) in Berlin, informing him that he did not fulfill the requirements for membership in the RKdbK and was  therefore prohibited from the further practice of the profession of an art dealer. He was given 4 weeks to sell or dissolve his business.

The extent of  Max Stern’s involvement in the sale of his paintings via Kunsthaus Lempertz is debatable but given the mandate to no longer practice his profession, it can be assumed that this Jewish dealer's sale of his gallery artworks and collection were under duress.  

The Lempertz Auction houses records were destroyed when Cologne was bombed during the Second Word War and it is therefore not possible to fully confirm the status of the art dealer’s sales with gallery records. The catalogue used by the Lempertz auction house for the sale of his related objects does resemble those used by Galerie Stern, which suggests that Stern was somewhat involved in at least the cataloging of material prior to their sale.

Articles referenced in this blog post:

Report of Nazi-Looted Trove Puts Art World in an Uproar
New York Times, Art & Design
November 4, 2013

U.S. List Helps Heirs Track Nazi-Loot Art in Munich Cache
By: Catherine Hickley
November 6, 2013

Germany’s $14 Million Art Forgers Jailed for Total 15 Years
By: Catherine Hickley
October 27, 2011


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