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December 26, 2013

"Selling Russia's Treasures" writes about the collecting history of Lucas Cranach the Elder's "Adam and Eve" now at The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCAblog Editor-in-Chief

Santa left a tantalizing art book under my Christmas tree, Selling Russia's Treasures: The Soviet Trade in Nationalized Art 1917-1938 edited by Natalya Semyonova and Nicolas V. Iljine, (MTA Publishing, November 2013), which is of particular interest to me as one of the artworks mentioned is the "Adam" and "Eve" diptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder that resides within a 15-minute walk of my home. This work is the subject of litigation in Marei Von Saher vs. The Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, which can be heard here from a court hearing in August 2013. These two paintings, purchased by the Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker at an Lepke auction in 1931 and 'purchased' by Herman Göring in 1940 were returned to an heir of the Stroganoff family after World War II and subsequently sold to Norton Simon in 1971. Did Cranach's "Adam" and "Eve" ever belong to the well-documented Stroganov Collection? According to Selling Russia's Treasures:
In addition to paintings from the Stroganov collection, the Lepke auction of May 12-13, 1931, featured two Lucas Cranach paired canvases, Adam and Eve, from the Art Museum of the Ukraine Academy of Sciences in Kiev. 
Cranach paintings often included Adam and Eve, but the existence of the canvases put up for the 1931 auction was unknown well into the late 1920s. The paintings had been found under a staircase in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Kiev in 1927, then moved to the museum of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra (monastery); in 1928, on the initiative of Prof. S. O. Gilyarov, the paintings were given to the Academy museum in Kiev (in 1929 Gilyarov published an article in Ukrainian about the paintings; it included a brief synopsis in French). The newly discovered Adam and Eve were sold in 1931 to Dutch collector Jacques Goudstikker, whose remarkable personal collection numbered more than a thousand old master paintings and about a hundred old master sculptures.
Here are previous ARCA posts about the painting; the Goudstikker collection's 'sale' to the Nazis; the Stroganoff Collection; and the lawsuit.