Showing posts with label Max Stern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Max Stern. Show all posts

November 29, 2017

Max Stern: His art legacy and an abruptly cancelled exhibition of works from the on Galerie Stern in Düsseldorf

Photo Credit : Concordia University - 1952 AP file photo of Max Stern
and his wife, Iris, reviewing an advertisement showing art from his lost collection. 
By: Angelina Giovani

Max Stern was born on April 18, 1904 in Mönchen-Gladbach, Germany to Selma Heilbron and Julius Stern, an important jewish art collector who would later become one of Düsseldorf’s leading art gallery owners. He was the youngest child and had two sisters, Hedi and Gerda. He studied art history in Vienna, Cologne, and Berlin, completing his Dr. Phil. in 1928 at the University of Bonn. His doctoral dissertation was on the accumulated works of German painter Johann Peter von Langer (1756-1824) and was published in 1930 by Kurt Schroeder.

Max Stern started working as a manager at the Galerie Julius Stern in 1928 though it wasn’t until his father’s passing in 1938 that he inherited the family's businesses interests both inside and outside of Germany. Unfortunately, the coming years coincided with the rise of Nazism and the gallery faced all the expected difficulties inherent with being a Jewish-owned business, ultimately resulting in his family's roughly 400-piece collection being liquidated. The Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (German: Reichskammer Der bildenden Künste (RKdbK)) which was established on September 22, 1933 and replaced the Federal Association of German Art and Antiques Dealers (German: Bundesverband Deutscher Kunst- und Antiquitätenhändler (BDKA)) under which dealers like Max Stern had formerly been organized.

In order for people of these professions to be able to practice, they needed to be granted membership by the RKdbK, something denied to Max Stern. For racial reasons he could no longer hold auctions after 1933 and on August 29, 1935, Stern received a final confirmation letter that he needed to liquidate his business within a three-month period. From that point onwards he was also prohibited from practicing his profession as an art dealer. Responding to the growing threat of Nazism, his sister Hedi moved to London and in 1936, together with a former associate from Düsseldorf, Cornelis J.W. van de Wetering, and opened West’s Galleries Limited in London.

By March 1937, Max Stern had sold the two gallery buildings on Königsallee 23-25 in Düsseldorf to the insurance company Allianz, as well as the Stern family home.  Having given up hopes of being able to save his business interests in Germany, he auctioned off the remainder of his gallery stock, some 200+ paintings, and immediately after departed the country on December 23, 1937 due to the deteriorating situation.  

Stern arrived in Paris with nothing more than one piece of hand luggage. He then travelled on to London where over the next year he joined his sister at West’s Galleries. In the meantime, the Gestapo proceeded to confiscate some of Stern's paintings which he had left with Josef Rogendorf, a shipping agent in Köln.

After travelling between France, the UK and Canada and spending years in internment, Max Stern finally settled in Montreal joining the Dominion Gallery of Fine Art in 1941. In 1942, thanks to his knowledge and expertise, he was made director of the company and started his mission to turn the gallery into the leading platform for the representation of living artists. He organized exhibitions for Joseph Fernand Henri Léger, John Lyman, Emily Carr, Stanley Cosgrove, Goodridge Roberts, and others.

By 1946, Max Stern had already began his recovery efforts and travelled to London to recover some paintings and his library. Soon after that, in 1947, Stern and his wife, Iris Ester Westerberg,  whom he married in New York on January 15, 1946, become owners of Montreal's Dominion Gallery (French: Galerie Dominion). In the years to come, the Dominion gallery, which had relocated to 1438 Sherbrooke Street, held major exhibitions on artists like François Auguste René Rodin and Edward J. Hughes, as well as a major exhibition of international sculpture.

In 1987, Max Stern died of a heart attack while on a trip to Paris. He left the bulk of his estate, including any potential recovery of lost artworks, to the charitable Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern Foundation.  The Foundation benefits three non-profit institutions:  Concordia University (Montreal), McGill University (Montreal), and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).  His private art collection was bequeathed to a large number of museums in Canada, the United States and Israel, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art  (French: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (MBAM)), the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (French: Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal), and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. His library collection, consisting of around 3000 books, was ceded jointly to Concordia and McGill Universities and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The Max Stern Art Restitution Project was created in 2002 and Concordia was mandated to direct the restitution issues brought forth by the circulation in the art market of works belonging to the Stern Galerie in Düsseldorf. The Estate’s right to claim the artworks was acknowledged by the Holocaust Claims Processing office in New York and the missing works are registered with numerous stolen art and claims databases, as well as with the Commission of Looted Art in Europe. Lawyer and looted art specialist Willi Korte has since been the chief investigator of this project.

Recently the city of Düsseldorf abruptly announced that it had decided to cancel the upcoming and much anticipated exhibition on Galerie Stern at the city’s Stadtmuseum. The travelling exhibition, which has been in preparation for the past three years, was to open first in Düsseldorf in February 2018 and from there travel onward to the Haifa Museum of Art in Israel before finally concluding at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

The exhibition would have brought forward issues which emphasize the problems of ownership history emphasizing transparency and education as crucial aspects of forwarding provenance research and restitution. The reason given by the city government for the cancellation of the exhibition was stated as “the current demands for information and restitution in German museums in connection with the “Galerie Max Stern.”  City authorities have indicated they intend to replace the exhibition with a symposium on the Stern’s legacy next autumn. 

If readers are interested in expressing their concerns about the cancellation of the Max Stern traveling exhibit at the Stadtmuseum Dusseldorf, please feel free to send an email to the Lord Mayor Thomas Geisel at:

Or add your name to this petition asking Lord Mayor Thomas Geisel to reverse his decision and reinstate the exhibition. 

References used in this blog post

November 6, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: BBC Newshour Interviews Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) and Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project were interviewed yesterday by BBC Newshour as to his reaction to the headlines out of Germany about the exclusive released by Focus magazine that Bavarian customs officials had discovered a hoard of suspected Nazi-era looted art belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt. Here's an excerpt:
Interviewer: How significant do you think it is? 
Marc Masurovsky: Well, it's always significant in terms of the numbers, but it's also one of those I told you so moments where everybody loves to believe that everything was destroyed so that we don't have to deal with it, but unfortunately there were enough dealers and collectors who profited from the Holocaust and Nazi plunder that they basically stashed the works away. What I'm curious about is how many did Mr. Cornelius Gurlitt sell before he was nabbed? So that's another question that doesn't seem to get asked.
Here's a link to "Plundered Cultures, Stolen Heritage", the conference at Concordia University in Montreal opening tomorrow that will gather "leading experts on the experiences of cultural destruction and mass atrocities suffered by the First Nations, Armenian and Jewish peoples are assembling to discuss the motives of the perpetrators of these assaults, their impact, and the significance these attacks pose for restitution and reconciliation today." Mr. Masurovsky will be one of the speakers.

March 30, 2012

Senate Bill 2212: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act Aims to Prevent Seizures of Nazi-era Looted Paintings on Loan to American Museums

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor-in-Chief

The proposed Senate Bill S. 2212, the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, is the biggest threat to date of making legal claims for stolen art, according to Marc Masurovsky, a Washington, DC-based historian and a former researcher director for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust-era Assets.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (1992-2012), a Democrat from California, who introduced the bill on March 20th to "clarify the exception to foreign sovereign immunity set forth in section 1605 (a)(3) title 28, United States code.

"S. 2212 will immunize most looted art coming into the United States," Masurovsky wrote on a message on Facebook.

According to, the bill is in the first stage of the legislative process:  "Most bills and resolutions are assigned to committees which consider them before they move to the House or Senate as a whole ... The sponsor [Feinstein] is a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where the bill has been referred." The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), another member of the senate's judiciary committee. also identifies this bill as related to another in the House of Representatives: H. R. 4086 of the same name.

"The backers of these two bills have asked Jewish groups, claimants and other interested parties, to make a choice: by opting for a limited category of art objects to be claimed in US courts that would come in from abroad for "cultural display," Masurovsky wrote in an email.  "They will allow all other looted art objects to enter the US without any possible legal recourse to seek restitution of those objects in a US court of law."

According to the bill submitted by Feinstein and Hatch:
If a work is imported into the United States from any foreign country pursuant to an agreement providing for the temporary exhibition or display of such work entered into between a foreign state that is the owner or custodian of such work and the United States or 1 or more cultural education institutions within the United States;
Last November, a Florida U. S. Attorney seized a 16th century painting (Girolamo Romano's Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue (1538) from the permanent collection of Italy's Pinacoteca di Brera in Milano loaned for an exhibit at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. In February, a U. S. judge ordered the painting to be returned to the heirs of Frederico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian Jew who died in Paris before the Nazis invaded France.

"The case in Tallahassee could never have occurred had the bill been passed last year," Masurovsky explains.  "The question remains also whether Wally could have been made possible had the bill existed in 1997 as well as the Altman v. Republic of Austria and all of the Max Stern Estate seizures in the US."

The bill distinguishes that the artworks is a cultural object and not to be considered to be a commercial activity.  "NAZI-ERA CLAIMS. -- Paragraph (1) shall not apply in any case in which -- (A) the action is based upon a claim that the work was taken in Europe in violation of international law by a covered government during the covered period; (B) the court determines that the activity associated with the exhibition or display is commercial activity; and (C) a determination under subparagraph (B) is necessary for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the foreign state under subsection (a)(3)."

The "covered government" involves the Nazi's Third Reich regime and the "covered period" is specified as January 30, 1933, through May 8, 1945."

This S.2212 aims to prevent seizures such as the one in the Florida case above.

The ARCA blog asked Ori Z. Soltes, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, for a comment:
"I have three basic comments: the first is to acknowledge that the intention on the part of Feinstein and Hatch comes from the right emotional place and even to laud their intention, but to suggest that they are simply being misguided; to wit (and here is my second comment, which is essentially to repeat virtually what Marc has said with regard to the danger of so narrowing the focus on Nazi-plundered art): that the result is to make the coming of all other kinds of plundered art into the United States immune not just from seizure, but from being recognized as plundered; the effect for archaeological artifacts in particular is potentially disastrous. 
"My third comment, related to the second, is that the narrowing of focus that the bill proposes adds another aspect of looking at the Holocaust as an event specifically Jewish or specifically European or specifically whatever, which enables people to ignore the larger issue, the human issue, of which it is part, and which "largeness" is evidenced by the depressing number of Holocaust-like events to which one can point across the planet both before and after World War II -- which is analogous to the broad range of culture plunder both before and after. If, with all of its unique aspects (of which are plenty) we simply view it as an aberration, we no longer have to ask as many questions about ourselves, we no longer have to think as much--and that is a profound danger particularly to the American people, with ramifications beyond this issue."

Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue/FCN