U.K. Rejects Nazi Victim Heirs’ Claim for Courtauld Drawings

Bloomberg 24 June 2009
By Catherine Hickley

A U.K. government panel rejected a claim by the heirs of Curt Glaser, a Jewish art collector persecuted by the Nazis, for the return of eight drawings held by London’s Samuel Courtauld Trust and sold by Glaser in 1933.

The drawings by Lovis Corinth, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, Giovanni Battista Crosato, Domenico Fossati and Domenico Piola fetched market prices when they were sold in Berlin in May 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, the U.K. Spoliation Advisory Panel said in its report. Though the dominant reason for the sale was Nazi oppression, Glaser was also motivated by the recent death of his wife, the panel said.

Glaser was director of Berlin’s Art Library and an art historian and critic who counted the painters Edvard Munch and Max Beckmann among his friends. He was suspended from his job and thrown out of his apartment by the Gestapo in April 1933. He sold most of his collection in two auctions in May and left for Switzerland in October.

“The claimants’ moral claim is insufficiently strong to warrant a recommendation that the drawings should be transferred to them,” the panel said in a report published today.

The U.K. is one of 44 governments that agreed to a non- binding, international accord known as the Washington principles, on returning looted art in 1998. This was the ninth recommendation by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, founded to resolve disputes about art lost in the Nazi era that is now held in British museums.

Courtauld Bequest

The eight drawings were purchased by Count Antoine Seilern at the Berlin auction on May 18 and May 19, 1933. He bequeathed them to the Samuel Courtauld Trust in 1978 as part of a larger collection. They are kept at the Courtauld Gallery in London.

Glaser’s heirs argued that he had no alternative but to sell the works to fund his escape and that it was therefore not a fair sale. Their lawyer, David Rowland of Rowland & Petroff in New York, said he will contest today’s recommendation.

“Glaser lost his job, he lost his apartment, he had to sell and then he left the country,” Rowland said by telephone today. “If they concede that the loss of the artworks was caused by Nazi persecution, then the only conclusion would be to return them. It’s a poor decision, and from a legal point of view it’s not correct. We will ask them to reconsider.”

The Samuel Courtauld Trust said in a statement that it “acknowledges the complexity of this case and the panel’s recommendation.”

Glaser died in New York in 1943. After World War II, his heirs filed claims for the loss of his art collection in the auctions. The German claims office awarded compensation of 7,100 deutsche marks to his widow, his second wife Maria Glaser Ash, in 1963.

To contact the writer on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at
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