Rare, looted relief finally paid for by Berlin museum

Jewish Chronicle 3 December 2009
The alabaster work is “one of the most important medieval depictions of the Passion”.

The alabaster work is “one of the most important medieval depictions of the Passion”

Israel and Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical service, will benefit from the latest restitution case involving Nazi-looted art.

A 570-year-old alabaster relief of Christ carrying the cross, described as one of the most important medieval portrayals of the Passion, was owned by Harry Fuld of Frankfurt, who made a fortune from telephones and telecommunications equipment.

In 1932 his business, which had passed to his son Harry Jr, was appropriated by the Nazis. In 1936, his art collection met the same fate.

Harry Fuld Jr took refuge in Britain. When he died in 1963, he left his estate to his housekeeper Gisele Martin who, in turn, bequeathed it to Magen David Adom (MDA) in Britain — even though it was not in her possession at the time. She died in 1992.

Now MDA has agreed to be paid for the relief by the Prussian Culture Foundation, which administers museums in Berlin where the artwork has been on display. Part of the agreement is that it will continue to be shown there.

Both parties agreed not to say how much money changed hands, but the JC understands that the work is worth a five-figure sum.

Stuart Glyn, MDA’s UK chairman, said that Harry Fuld Sr was “a billionaire by the standards of the time”.

He said: “He was one of the first people to realise you could make money by renting out telecommunications equipment.”

He was also a “magpie”, Mr Glyn said, collecting “lots of stuff — some of it was good quality, some of it less good”.

When the estate first came to MDA, said Mr Glyn, there was no art listed as being part of it. “But now works are beginning to come to light. We don’t even know the full extent of the collection.”

MDA is negotiating with one museum for the restitution of a drawing by Paul Klee, Mr Glyn said. It is also seeking to recover objects as diverse as 12th-century Buddha statues and 16th-century Italian masters.

“If we can get a reasonable price, we would prefer the works to remain in museums,” he said.

“But we have an obligation as trustees to get a good price for our beneficiaries.”
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