MFA Houston reportedly sold under duress during WWII –


The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, an organization that studies works looted during WWII, calls on the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to return an 18th-century painting to the heirs of a German Jewish collector. The MFA asserts that the sale of the work was “legitimate” and that there is therefore no need to return the painting.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the foundation claimed that Bernardo Bellotto’s project Pirna market (ca. 1764) was sold under duress in the years leading up to World War II. It had once belonged to department store mogul Max J. Emden, who lost much of his wealth amid Nazi persecution. The foundation alleges that the art dealer who bought it in Emden collaborated with the Nazis.

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Emden fled to Switzerland in 1933 and became a citizen there a year later, residing with his art collection on the Brissago Islands until his death in 1940. When the Nazis came to power in the early and mid-1970s 1930s he continued to hold assets. and companies in Hamburg.

The director of the Monuments Men Foundation, Robert Edsel, said in an interview that the museum has an obligation to conduct further research to clarify the official record of the painting. “It is one of the most important museums in our country,” he said. “They have immense resources. Where is the curiosity to research this? “

In a statement to ARTnews, MFA Director Gary Tinterow reaffirmed the museum’s belief in the “legitimacy” of Emden’s sale of the painting in 1938.

The Emden heirs opened a first investigation into the Bellotto in 2007 and filed a claim in 2011. They never took legal action.

In response to the 2011 complaint, the museum examined the provenance of the work. In his statement, Tinterow said: “The Museum maintains, as it did in 2007 and 2011, that the 1938 sale of Bellotto Pirna market to the German government was initiated by Dr. Emden, as a Swiss citizen, with the painting under his control in his villa in Switzerland, and entered into by him voluntarily.

Between March and April of this year, the Emden heirs again raised concerns about the Bellotto work’s ownership record and appealed to the Monuments Men Foundation to help them research the painting’s ownership history. . The painting has been in the museum’s collection since 1961, when it was donated by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. According to the Monuments Men Foundation, records indicate that Emden sold the work to German dealer Karl Haberstock in 1938, along with two other paintings by Bellotto which were later acquired for Adolf Hitler’s museum project in Linz. Haberstock regularly supplied works of art to the Nazi forces.

Records obtained by the foundation indicate that the Bellotto was recovered by the Monuments Men in 1946 and returned to the Dutch government. The foundation claims it was never returned to the Emden family.

The Monuments Men Foundation claims that between 1945 or 1946, Allied forces recovered another version of Bellotto’s view of Pirna. According to historical documents posted on the foundation’s website, there was a mixture of the two versions. Emden’s painting was returned to the son of art dealer Hugo Moser, who then sold the painting to Kress in 1952.

An earlier version of the Bellotto’s ownership history on the MFA website stated: “It is possible that the provenance of the two versions has become confused”. The Monuments Foundation claims that an inventory number painted on the front of the artwork links the MFA painting to Emden.

Screenshots provided by the foundation appear to show that in June, two months after the foundation first contacted Tinterow, the museum removed Emden’s name from the painting’s online record – “erase rather than clarifying the history of wartime painting, ”says the foundation’s statement. The museum, in turn, issued a statement to the foundation in May confirming its position that “there is no physical evidence” that the painting is that of Emden.

The heirs of Emden also succeeded in recovering two other landscapes by Bellotto sold during the war, both returned by the German government in 2019. The heirs then sold them to Sotheby’s in 2020 for an amount of 5.7 million pounds. sterling ($ 7.8 million). Unlike the two photos recently returned to the Emden Heirs, the one from MFA Houston does not have a Linz inventory number on the back, according to photographs provided by the museum to the foundation.

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