Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the Time of the Second World War:

Detailed Findings on Art in Sweden at the Time of the Second World War

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The Final Report on Sweden and Jewish Assets, published by the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the Time of the Second World War as the 'Slutrapport "Sverige och judarnas tillgångar" on 3 March 1999 and updated on 2 April 2015, contained detailed information about looted art.

The Commission's 'observations' on art in Sweden are set out in Swedish in the Final Report from page 291, section 6.5.2, to page 303. Those pages can be seen in the original text here.

The complete observations on art are set out below in guide English translation; the footnotes can be found at the end of the observations.

6.5.2 On art

In an American report on stolen art, a conclusion regarding the possible occurrence of stolen art in the Swedish market is stated as follows (69):

"Although Sweden would seem to have been a logical place for the concealment of looted art because of its neutrality during the war, it is felt that unlike Switzerland, it was never used to any great extent by the Germans for this purpose."

At the same time, the report suggested that certain investigations should be carried out regarding art that was reportedly previously owned by the German art dealer Karl Haberstock and probably found in Sweden. As previously reported, f.d. the head of the Östergötland County Museum, Gunnar Lindqvist, was commissioned to investigate, on behalf of the Commission, the Swedish art market at the time of the Second World War, with a special focus on the occurrence of stolen art. Gunnar Lindqvist's survey, which is largely based on interviews with people who have had contact with the art market during the period, is presented below (70).

The Swedish art market

The Swedish art market during the 1930s was rather limited and the number of art dealers and galleries relatively few. It was mainly Swedish art that dominated the trade, but also international art from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the years 1935-36, the company Pollak from Vienna introduced high-quality international art and crafts, but the Swedish public showed low interest in this art. Karl Asplund who at this time was the CEO of Bukowski, the leading auctioneer and art dealer for older art in Sweden, has stated that works from the art trade in Germany also came to Sweden during these years. "The reason was certainly the political development there and the shadows that began to settle over Central Europe," Asplund writes in his memoirs. The latter director Gregor Aronowitsch notes that it was only after the war that he could again travel to Europe and buy art for sale in Sweden.

There were also other art dealers who offered older international art in Sweden during the current period. the Finnish art dealer Gösta Stenman, Rapp's art shop and Gallery S:t Lucas in Stockholm, the art dealer Christian Faerber and Börjesson's art shop in Gothenburg. On some occasions before the war, the Dutch art dealer P. de Boer organized sales in Stockholm.

Modern international art was mainly represented by the Swedish-French Art Gallery in Stockholm, which organized regular auctions and exhibitions. The Swedish-French Art Gallery also dealt with older international art. Furthermore, there were several galleries such as Galleri Blanche and after the war Galleri Pierre, who was a specialist in international modern graphics, and Galleri Moderne.

Of course, there were also a number of antique dealers with a variety of antiques and art dealers who bought and sold, among other things. through the large auction companies. The open international art market in Sweden was fairly limited and clear during the period 1938-50. However, that does not prevent a more hidden trade in art and antiques.

The museums

At the museums, the international art acquired during the years 1938-50 has been examined. The reason is that high quality art has often proven provenance, ie. that you can follow the artwork's previous owners fairly well, as this is an indispensable requirement to be able to confirm the work's status as original, replica or copy. For the museums, this documentation of provenance is of paramount importance. This means that a careful museum man requires proof of the chain of ownership that a significant work of art has had. Thus, any deviations from a normal ownership picture are usually revealed.

In an interview, a museum curator has stated that, with one exception, the museum men were opponents of Nazism. She believes that there was a great vigilance at the museums regarding the Nazis' confiscated collections of art and cultural history objects. At one point in 1945, a Swedish artist offered the museum where she was employed a valuable painting purchased in Paris. It turned out that the painting had belonged to the Louvre and was obviously taken by the Nazis and later came out in trade. Through the museum manager's care, the painting was restored to the Louvre.

Nationalmuseum

A review of the National Museum's board minutes during the years 1938- 50 shows that during the period up to 1947, purchases of international art were very sparse. Only a few acquisitions were made at higher prices. The review of the board protocols has been supplemented by a review of the painting department's catalogues and certain information in the archives of the National Museum of Friends. It was not until 1949 that the museum began to make regular purchases of international contemporary art. During the investigation, certain works were specifically examined to determine their provenance. These investigations have not led to any significant listings for the investigations.

In 1940, through the Friends of the National Museum in Rome, a marble sculpture was purchased by an Italian master, a portrait of Cardinal Dazio Azzelino. The sculpture had been found at excavations. Of course, it is impossible today to determine if the sculpture has provenance other than the one stated at the time of purchase.

Friends of the National Museum purchased artworks at Bukowski's auctions or through private individuals and presented these as gifts to the museum. There seems to be no ambiguity regarding these works. In 1944, the museum was offered to make purchases at Björk's art shop, which had art objects, purchased about 7-8 years ago "emanating from the Erimitaget". The board protocols of the museum show that they made the judgement to make no purchases.

In 1943, the museum received as a gift a painting by Bonnard, Girl in the Light, from the director Oscar Stern. This person, who had a large art collection of i.a. modern French art comprising collections of Bonnard, Dufy, Rosualt, Picasso, Chagall and others, traded with art in Stockholm during the war years. The aforementioned Bonnard painting belonged early to the well-known art store Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, was sold to the art dealer Hessel in Paris, to later be owned by Stern. This is an example of a gap in proven provenance. It should be noted that the value of modern 20th century art was limited at this time. For example, the National Museum bought a drawing by Henri Matisse for SEK 40 from the Swedish-French Art Gallery.

The German art dealer Karl Haberstock, who was Hitler's art agent, offered in 1943 via the Swedish mission in the Berlin National Museum  to buy a painting by the Swedish artist Georg Desmarées. No purchase was made.

Sampling has been taken in the museum's correspondence. In September 1944, the museum received letters from the Foreign and Ecclesiastical Ministry regarding attempts by the German side to sell artworks belonging to the Italian state in Sweden.

Gothenburg Art Museum

The museum's accession catalogue during the years 1938-52 has been examined along with a documentation archive for the artworks.

During the period 1938-50, approximately 20 works of art of an international nature were added to the collections at the Gothenburg Art Museum. Of these, a large number were conveyed by the art dealer Christian Faerber, who, together with F. M. Zatsenstein, had art shops in Berlin. As the latter was a Jew, in 1933 the business was moved to London.

Faerber was a resident of Gothenburg from time to time and a close friend of the museum director Professor Axel Romdahl. It seems that the works of art that were conveyed through Faerber mainly came from English collections, purchased at art auctions in London. Provenance of some paintings cannot be determined for the war years, but had been sold on the London art market during the 1930s.

Faerber donated several paintings to the museum. The museum also received gifts through the friends of the Gothenburg Art Museum, who often acquired the artworks through Faerber. In 1939, a significant painting of Chagall, Flowers and hen, was purchased at the Swedish-French Art Gallery in Stockholm for SEK 4,000. The painting had been owned by the Bernheim-Jeune art store in Paris and had later belonged to Oscar Stern.

Samples have been taken in the museum's correspondence which is partly general and partly correspondence to the museum manager. In August 1939, the museum was offered by a Danish person to buy paintings and graphics by the German expressionist painter Emil Nolde, who is one of the foremost artists of the 20th century. Nolde's art was regarded by the Nazis as "degenerate art".

The offered works had been purchased from the German Ministry of Propaganda and the seller, whose sister was married to Emil Nolde, now offered Scandinavian museums to buy them. The Gothenburg Art Museum did not make any purchases. The correspondence shows that museum director Axel Romdahl was a clear opponent of Nazism.

Malmö museums

Malmö museums consists of four different museums. One of them is the Malmö Art Museum. The accession catalogue includes mixed acquisitions of art with acquisitions of cultural-historical and archaeological objects. The period 1938-47 has been examined.

The collections of Malmö Art Museum were expanded to an unusually large extent during the period through very large donations by Swedish artists and their surviving families.

Some collections of foreign art were acquired from foreign art. One, in 1939, was a collection of Latvian contemporary art containing some 40 paintings and the other was a collection of Finnish art, including many of the more important Finnish artists: Järnefelt, Rissanen. Aaltonen, Gallen-Kallela and Simberg. The previous collection was a gift from customs inspector Oscar Elmqvist and the other was conveyed through the art dealer Gösta Stenman and just mentioned Elmqvist. Stenman came during the period to sell drawings and watercolors by internationally important artists to the museum. The purchases were sometimes made with the help of Malmö Museum's friends. Thus, in 1939, works were acquired by Gainsburough, Bassano, Zucarelli, Rubens, Jan van Goyen, Corregio and Carracci. In total, Stenman conveyed some 30 drawings, engravings and watercolors by major international artists during the years 1939-44. In addition, a Hieronymus painting was purchased by an unknown Dutch 16th century master. How these unusual works of art could be conveyed through Stenman's art shop in Stockholm does not appear in the accession catalogue. Stenman had already made purchases on the continent and in England before the war.

During this time, Malmö museums also had contact with a Turkish trader, Hessan Chaberstag, who sold Persian pottery and fragments of oriental material to the museum. He had been living in Malmö for some time. He mediated objects, which are listed in the accession catalogue as land finds from Istanbul.

Östergötland County Museum

The museum owns the largest collection of older European art alongside the aforementioned museums. The collection was mainly created through donations, but purchases were also made. A collection, which was later donated to the museum, was added during the current period. The museum's accession catalogue has been examined for the years 1938-1950.
Purchases of international art during the period are insignificant, but there are some major donations, including of a larger collection of graphics by Honoré Daumier. In the recently donated collection of mainly 17th and 18th century art, there are several works, which were purchased during the period both at Bukowski's auctions and also at Galleri S: t Lucas in Stockholm. In the latter case, these are two Dutch 17th-century paintings. No further information on their previous provenance has been established.

Art trade

Two archives from the art trade have been available: the Swedish-French Art Gallery, which is stored in the archives of the National Museum. and Bukowski's, which are stored at the company.

In order to obtain further information on possible trade in art from Nazi Germany, interviews have also been conducted with older art and antique dealers as well as museum men, who were active during the war or immediately after 1945. Furthermore, contacts have been made with the Jewish Museum and the Jewish Library to investigate materials which are available that can illustrate the issue.

A lady who worked at galleries for modern art from 1938 has given a picture of the trade in modern art. She has stated which serious galleries existed in Stockholm. She also stated that she had never come into contact with contemporary art, which could have been seized by the Nazis, nor does she know of any gallery dealing with such business.

Another lady who followed the auctions and art trade in Stockholm from 1930 and together with her husband created a significant collection of older art, which largely goes to a museum, has told about the art trade during the war from the buyer's point of view. She has stated that most of the collection was purchased at Bukowski's auctions but also in the art trade in Switzerland and England after the end of the war. Some works were also purchased from art dealers in Stockholm. She mentions Rapp's art shop, which before 1946 had bundles of paintings lying in Stockholm's freeport, from which buyers could choose. She also states that it is not excluded that any painting in the collection may have come on the trade in wrong ways and indicates a painting that was cut out of an originally larger painting. However, there were never any discussions about Nazi art in the art market, she says.

Swedish-French Art Gallery

The dominant company for the sale of international 20th century art, mainly French, was the Swedish-French Art Gallery in Stockholm. The company held several auctions a year and also organized exhibitions by both international and Swedish artists. The company's auction part was bought by Bukowski during the first half of the 1970s.

Certain parts of the archive have been examined, namely auction catalogues with certain notes on sellers and buyers from the mid-1930s to 1945 and accounts for auctions 1939-44.

During the years 1940-43 almost exclusively Swedish art appeared at the auctions and only Swedish artists were exhibited. During the 1930s, the company conveyed modern French art and from 1944 French contemporary art is again common. The Swedish-French Art Gallery also sold older international art at the auctions. Two art dealers sold continuously at the auctions 1939-44, namely Christian Faerber and Oscar Stern, but other merchants also provided more sporadic works for sale.

Bukowski

Bukowski has very old ancestry as a centre for trade in art and antiques in Sweden. The company has always had a very good reputation and kept high quality at its auctions. The company also previously operated art shops.

During the investigations, the auctions during the years 1938-46 were examined by receiving receipts for the auctions during the period 31/8 1937 - 13/1 1946. These also contain information on submitted works for sub-sales. Furthermore, copy books 12/5 1941 - 10/5 1946 were reviewed and samples taken in auction reports for auctions 310 - 334, ie. during the years 1937-45. During this time, the company mainly dealt with older art and antiques, but to a very small extent with 20th century art.

The international art offered at the auctions came almost exclusively from Swedish sellers. High-class works usually came from old well-known Swedish collections, which had been partly or completely dispersed due to generation changes. Examples are works from the Säfstholm collection and from the Finspong collection.

Occasional inquiries during the war years came from abroad about sales, it was noted that Bukowski's replied that the currency regulations impeded the way and that a license was required to bring art and antiques into the country.

There were some art dealers who regularly submitted international art for sale but who also bought it. One can also find that on occasion the submission of art from a particular country occurred. Among other things, there were sales of seven Hungarian painitngs in Sweden in 1944 (71). This can be interpreted as sales from refugees.

Some particularly valuable works of art by Anton van Dyck and Paul Gauguin were sold in 1939 and 1940. A closer examination of these sales shows in the former case a Swedish seller and a Swedish buyer. The painting by Paul Gauguin had obviously been auctioned at Sotheby's auctions around 1930. The seller was an unidentified person. The price was amazingly low, SEK 2,000. The provenance of the painting during the period 1930 - 39 could not be determined.

Before 1940 and from 1945, international trade occurred. American documents mention that Bukowski's must have at the beginning of 1943 received two boxes containing valuable paintings from Germany (72)

The aforementioned US report of May 1945 includes several names of German and foreign art dealers and other persons in American documents from 1945, Gallery St. Lucas is mentioned as one (73). None of the listed names are among the people who bought or sold at the auctions at the Swedish-French Art Gallery and Bukowski.

Gallery St Lucas

In American documents from 1945, Gallery St. Lucas is mentioned as a possible place for the sale of stolen art (74). The gallery organized a number of exhibitions with international art from 1941 to 1945. These were exhibitions with borrowed works as well as pure sales exhibitions. The US documents state that the director of the gallery refused to mention where they came from, but that a number were obtained from "poor Jewish refugees".

In 1941, an exhibition of Italian painting was arranged with 1,300-1,600 borrowed works, mainly from Consul General Karl Bergsten, a well-known art collector, who was close to the National Museum. The King had also lent works of art to the exhibition.

In 1942, an exhibition of English painting from 1530-1850, was organized with borrowed works.

In April and May 1944, an exhibition of Flemish-Dutch painting was organized. All works of art were for sale. Another exhibition was organized with partly the same paintings in 1945. The exhibition in 1944 contained many high quality paintings. The catalogue, see Appendix 7, contains only exceptional works with provenance. At the same time, it can be stated that the catalogue contains incorrect information about Old Master works of art. For example, a self-portrait by Rembrandt is, in fact, a copy after a self-portrait in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, and a painting by Joachim Patinir is a weak imitation of a painting by Patinir in the Louvre. The directory information must thus be called into question.

Among the exhibited works were some triptychs, attributed to Ambrosius Benson, Bernard van Orley and an Antwerp fashion designer, which are of particular value in determining provenance. Of these, the triptychs of Bernard van Orley are said to have belonged to a Hungarian collection. It cannot be ruled out that some works at these exhibitions in 1944 and 1945 are from war-torn Europe.

People associated with the gallery were George Lindahl, L Kindgren and the conservator T. Genal, the latter allegedly Hungarian. An official at the National Museum wrote to the Aliens Commission and canceled Swedish citizenship for him. The reason for this letter is somewhat unclear.

None of the interviewed art and antique dealers or museum men had any contact with the gallery and could not comment on the information.

AB Furniture Art

The company was an antique shop located at Blasieholmstorg in Stockholm. In November 1944, an exhibition of international art was organized. The collection consisted mainly of Dutch art. Among the works on sale were, according to the catalogue Pieter Brueghel, i.e., van Dyck, Avercamp, Ambrosius Benson, Frans Francken, Jan Brueghel, Gerard Dou, thus significant older international artists.

Especially the painting by Pieter Brueghel d.ä. may be of interest in this context. The circular painting is stated to be a proverb image, which is correct, but the image in the catalogue is certainly to be judged as not by Brueghel, but by another Dutch painter. The American report of May 1945 states that Pieter Brueghel's famous painting: The blind leading the blind, which belongs to the Museum of Naples, would have been in Stockholm at that time. According to investigations, this should not have been the case. According to the above document, this painting, together with a large number of works of art, were brought by the Germans to Monte Cassino. The painting remains in the Naples Museum. There is also a proverbial image of Pieter Brughel d. Ä Probably the simpler proverbial image, which in the Furniture Service's catalogue is stated as a painting by Brueghel, has been mistaken for the painting in the Museum of Naples and thus an incorrect interpretation has been made in the document. The proverb painting offered in Stockholm had already been for sale in 1941 at an auction organized by Björck's art shop in Stockholm.

Some of the artworks on offer can be traced to older Swedish collections, but most works of art lack such provenance and thus may have been introduced to Sweden during the Second World War. It should also be noted that several exhibited works were later included in the auction at Bukowski's auctions.

Rapp's art shop

Rapp's art store was a major art store in central Stockholm. In interviews it has emerged that Rapp's art trade had bundles of paintings lying in Stockholm's freeport. Repeated attempts have been made to obtain information about this and to find out if any archive is preserved, but contacts within the family show that they have no knowledge of the conditions at this time. Thus, it is not currently possible to ascertain where these works of art came from or if they have any relation to the American data on boxes containing stolen art that was stored in Stockholm's freeport in Koux's name (75)

Rapp's art trade first organized exhibitions in 1948 and 1949 for older Dutch art.

Other art trade

Several other sales of international art took place during the 1930s and 1940s. The renowned art dealer P. de Boer in Amsterdam organized exhibitions and sales at Galleri Moderne, among others. in the autumn of 1938, offering a range of high quality works of art by, for example, El Greco, Lucas Cranach, Goya, Guardi, Brueghel and Rembrandt. The paintings in the catalogue are usually well documented through information on provenance.

Gösta Stenman's art trade conducted an extensive business with international art and had a number of exhibitions during the 1930s. Stenman collaborated with several Swedish museums and made an exhibition in 1940 called "From Titian to Hubert Robert" for the benefit of the Friends of the National Museum and with funding from, among others, the King. Stenman was a Finn and also had a selection of Finnish art.

A collection of art, which was placed in the bank deposit box of Enskilda Bank, because of suspicion that it was a stolen art, subject to examination by the Allied Art Commission,  belonged to Ludvig G. Braathen (76).

Futher information on the results of this study of the Art Commission has not been found. An examination of the paintings in the collection shows that several of these are well known in the art literature, for example Bonnard's Sitting Naked Girl, which was exhibited in Stockholm in 1947 and which still belonged to Braathen in the 1960s. This painting was sold in 1936 in Paris and purchased by Hessel. Many paintings by Bonnard came to Sweden through Director Oscar Stern and were then sold at the Swedish-French Art Gallery. This painting may have belonged to Stern's collection. The collection also included a portrait of Goya depicting Comtesse de Haro. This is certainly a completely erroneous description, as the portrait of Comtesse de Haro has completely different qualities and is well known. It may be a forgery. Thus, information in the art-historical literature, which gives reason to consider the collection or individual works of art in the person who robbed, does not exist.

During the investigations, a letter was found, dated August 11, 1944, from Professor Johnny Roosval to the head of the National Museum, Erik Wettergren, in which he was asked to provide information on the introduction of artwork to Sweden during the war from Germany or countries occupied either for storage only here or for sale. Roosval states that he is engaged in an investigation. Research has been done to track material from this study, but in the list of Roosval's archives, which are stored at the ATA (Antiquarian-Topographical Archives), no documents have been traceable.

Nothing has emerged that indicates that any extensive activity with art stolen by the Nazis occurred in Sweden at the time of the Second World War or shortly thereafter. However, it seems likely that some works of art, which were for sale in 1944-45 at the aforementioned exhibitions and auctions, may have been directly or indirectly linked to stolen art. However, it can be stated that nothing indicates that some very significant works of art passed through Sweden.

Some of the works sold at the 1944-45 auctions can very likely be identified and derived from the owners through further research in the art archives on the continent. In particular, the RKD (Het Rijksbureau vor Kunsthistorische Dokumentatie) in The Hague should be relevant for such research.

Ongoing international work

At the Washington Conference held at the end of November-December 1998, the Nazi regime's activities were on the agenda. The Allies' efforts to trace and return stolen artwork after the war were discussed and the issue of how stolen art can be identified raised several points of discussion.

The World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization have established a database in which it is possible to run data against each other as title, artist and owner. This information must be able to be tested against art catalogues, insurance companies' lists and lists of stolen works of art. A form containing about 70 questions can be ordered at the following e-mail address:
claims@rslmgmt.com

Another database is The Art Loss Register which contains over 100,000 art objects stolen over the last 50 years. Registration of items is free of charge. Questionnaires can be ordered from eg. the following address:

The Art Loss Register Ltd
12 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7HH Fax: 0171 235 1652
Email: artloss@artloss.co.uk

The Art Loss Register also has offices in New York and Düsseldorf.

In several countries such as France, Russia and Austria are established databases and during the conference a request was expressed by the US for the establishment of an international art archive.

A number of other initiatives have been taken recently. For example, Austria has, by law, regulated the issue of the return of art in state museums which turns out to be robbed and Russia has declared its willingness to participate in the international work on restoration of stolen art by opening archives and establishing databases.


76 Exchange of letters at the turn of the year 1944-45 between the American Legation in Stockholm and the US Department of Foreign Affairs, Commission's no. 9/99.
69 Art Looting Investigation Unit, Final Mission to Europe (10 June 1946 - 24 September 1946), Commission No 219/98.
70 Commission Nos 187/98 and 8/99. In addition to interviews, which included about 15 people active in the art trade, museums or collections, some memoirs also provided an image of the art market such as, for example, Karl Asplund's books: Art connoisseurs merchants, Stockholm 1962 and Bukowski - An art trading house in Stockholm, Stockholm 1945 and Gregor Aronovich: Bukowski - My Destiny, Stockholm 1988.
71 Auction No. 322 (1944) of seven Hungarian paintings submitted by Dr. Wasashely.
72 See above under section 6.5.1.
73 Looted Art in Occupied Territories Neutral Countries and Latin America, May 1945. See paragraph 5.6.1 above.
74 See above in section 6.5.1.
75 See above in section 6.5.1.
76 Exchange of letters at the turn of the year 1944-45 between the American Legation in Stockholm and the US Department of Foreign Affairs, Commission's no. 9/99.

 

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