Public gets look at painting looted during Nazi era

Montreal Gazette 18 October 2006
Peggy Curan

MONTREAL - The first painting in a multimillion-dollar cache that vanished when art dealer Max Stern fled Nazi Germany has been recovered and is about to have its first public appearance in 70 years.

Concordia will unveil on Thursday the as-yet-unspecified work, one of hundreds that were seized or stolen in 1936 when Stern escaped, first to England, then Canada.

Clarence Epstein, director of special projects at Concordia, has spent the last six years on the trail of Stern's elusive Dusseldorf collection, working with Interpol and agencies such as New York's Holocaust Claims Processing Office, the Art Loss Register and the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

During a distinguished career in Canada, Stern gained a reputation for identifying Canadian talent, showcasing the works of Jean-Claude Ripelle, Goodridge Roberts, Emily Carr and Paul-Emile Borduas at the Dominion Gallery in Montreal.

But he never gave up his quest for the ones that got away - roughly 400 pieces that spanned from the Renaissance to the impressionists and early 20th-century realism.

With works by Jan Brueghel, Annibale Carracci, Franz Winterhalter, Hieronymus Bosch and Max Liebermann, Epstein has estimated the value of missing trove at "tens and tens of millions of dollars."

Acting on behalf of Concordia, McGill University and Hebrew University - the key benefactors of Max and Iris Stern's estate - Epstein's team combed art catalogues and databases on the lookout for paintings listed in Stern's ledgers.

By last spring, the art detectives had tracked 40 paintings listed and sold by 15 auction houses over the last 20 years, surfacing in national galleries in Europe, a casino in Taiwan and the estate of an elderly German baroness in Rhode Island.

A Concordia official said Tuesday that Montrealers will have an opportunity to see the painting after Thursday's unveiling in the university's new engineering and visual arts building.

However, she refused to say whether the painting will stay at Concordia. Nor could she say whether Stern's heirs intend to keep the painting or any others that are recovered.
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