Gallery may give up art 'looted by Nazis from Jewish owners'

The Times 29 March 2007
Fiona Hamilton

The National Gallery could be forced to surrender one of its most popular paintings after claims that it was looted by the Nazis.

An international search has been launched for the Jewish family from whom the valuable painting may have been plundered by one of Hitler’s top commanders during the Second World War.

The work, Cupid Complaining to Venus, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, was purchased by the National Gallery in New York for £34,000 in 1963.

While it has soared in value and is now worth millions of pounds, the gallery has added it to a list of works with “incomplete provenance”. It is appealing for information about who the real owners may have been.

The move was prompted by claims that the painting was looted by the Nazis and then grabbed by Patricia Lochridge Hartwell, a war correspondent for Women’s Home Companion magazine in 1945.

Miss Hartwell, who was with the Screaming Eagles in Germany after the Omaha Beach landing, is believed to have taken the painting when she was given control of Hitler’s former residence at Berchtesgaden for a day by a colonel.

Her son, Jay Hartwell, told The Art Newspaper that his mother was told that she could help herself from a warehouse which contained a hoard of art plundered by Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and a chief member of the Nazi party.

Because he was a German artist, Cranach’s works were prized by Goering as he plundered his way across Europe.Much of Goering’s hoard, including works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto, was taken to Berchtesgaden by fleeing Nazis before the Americans got there.

Hartwell, of Texan origin and who died in 1998, once wrote that she was responsible for stolen art worth $100 million when she controlled the residence. As well as taking the Cranach, she was also said to have had one of Goering’s military sashes turned into a hat and handbag.

The Cranach was painted in about 1525, and depicts Cupid complaining to Venus about being stung by bees while stealing a honeycomb. The painting illustrates the moral that “life’s pleasure is mixed with pain”.
Records show that the painting once belonged to Emil Goldschmdt, a Frankfurt collector, and was sold by a Berlin auctioneer in 1909. It is thought the painting belonged to a Jewish family but was then taken by the Nazis. If they or their descendants are traced, they would be able to make a multimillion-pound compensation claim.
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