November 3, 2016

There's money to be made from suffering: The collection history of a recovered Monuments Men artwork, returned to the heirs, then sold, then sold again, and soon to be sold (yet) again

According to some statistics, less than 20 percent of the value of Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis and their collaborators has been restored.

ARCA highlights the lifespan of one.

Painted Crucifix
Giovanni da Rimini
Active in Rimini 
1292 - 1336
Egg tempera on cruciform panel
160.5 by 130 cm.

Collection History/Provenance 

Possibly Achillito Chiesa, Esq. of Milan collection, 
Frederick Muller, Amsterdam 
Enrico Testa

With Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, inv. no. 2212, by 1929 .  

Goudstikker, the now famous second-generation Jewish Dutch art dealer fled the Netherlands in 1940 along with his wife Désirée von Halban Kurz and their son Edo following the country's invasion by Nazi Germany. 

While crossing the English channel on the SS Bodegraven, Jacques fell to his death through an uncovered hatch on the deck of the ship. Inconveniently his executor, Dr. A. Sternheim, also died around this same time and the entire Goudstikker collection (1,113 numbered paintings and an unknown quantity of unnumbered paintings) were sold to Nazi leader Hermann Wilhelm Göring despite the objections of Goudstikker's widow.  

The forced sale price:   a measly two million guilders, a small fraction of the collection's actual value.

13 July 1940  - the artwork is transferred to Carinhall by Walter Hofer for Hermann Göring (inv. no. 392).

 Museum and exhibition labels from the reverse side
of the panel painting

Photo of Jacques Goudstikker
from RKDarchives.
Afterwards, the panel painting was recovered by the "Monuments Men", a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA") section under the auspices of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies during World War II.  The recovered artwork was then forwarded to the Munich Central Collecting Point (inv. no. 6294) on August 2, 1945. 

After being documented, the panel painting was delivered to the Nederlands Kunstbezit, earlier known as the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit at The Hague (inv. no. NK1485) on November 7, 1945. 

As Marc Masurovsky, Co-Founder of  the Holocaust Art Restitution project has said "in an ideal world, the cost of seeking restitution of a Nazi-looted art object should not be a hindrance to achieving justice."

But the economics of restitution is never easy. The legal expenses of restitution to von Saher for the return of her family’s objects totalled some USD $10.4 million, a fee most World War II claimants cannot afford, even when the works of art are high in value as was the case in this circumstance. As a consequence, the painting was put on the auction block. 

On July 05, 2007 the cross, Lot 7, is sold for USD $125,362 via Christie’s London and is acquired by Old Master dealer, Fabrizio Moretti of Moretti Fine Art galleries in Florence, London, and New York. 

On January 29, 2015 the cross is again sold as Lot 131 for USD $245,000 via Sotheby's New York to an unnamed buyer, who apparently is still represented by the Italian Old Masters firm as it is still being marketed under the umbrella of Moretti Fine Arts.  

Image from Moratti Fine Art’s
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And the clack of an auctioneer's hammer continues.