Israel Museum Returns a Klee Drawing to a Nazi Victim's Housekeeper

Artinfo 29 September 2010

JERUSALEM— The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which prides itself on acting as a "model for responsible restitution," in the words of director James S. Snyder, actively seeks to facilitate the return of Nazi-stolen artworks to the heirs to the victims of the historical crimes. Today, the museum has itself lived up to its standards, restituting a 1920 Paul Klee drawing to the heir and former housekeeper of the late German Jewish art collector Harry Fuld Jr., a move that the institution says is being enacted in an "exemplary fashion."

Paul Klee's "Veil Dance," 1920

Fuld had purchased Klee’s "Veil Dance" in 1932 but was forced to leave it with the transportation firm Gustav Knauer five years later when he fled Nazi persecution. In 1941, a law was put in place that allowed officers of the Third Reich to confiscate the art collections and other assets of Jewish residents who had escaped the country. When the war drew to a close, the Klee was handed over to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, a group charged with the task of distributing Nazi-seized artworks whose former owners could not be identified to cultural institutions around the world. The Restitution Organization then deposited it — along with hundreds of other drawings, paintings, and objects — in the care of the Bezalel National Museum, a precursor to the modern-day Jerusalem arts institution. Today, the Israel Museum provides an online catalogue of the unclaimed works in order to ease the process for heirs searching for lost art.

The Klee has been returned to Gita Gisela Martin, Fuld's housekeeper, who he named as the heir to his estate when he died in 1963. According to a statement issued by the museum, she is donating the drawing to Magen David Adom UK, a charitable organization in Israel much like the Red Cross, to which she had previously given the rest of Fuld's holdings.

"As part of a notable series of works on paper by Klee, 'Veil Dance' amplified an important dimension of the Museum’s collection, which includes his masterful Angelus Novus, 1920, along with eighteen other works on paper by the artist," Snyder says in the statement. "However, it is gratifying that, in restituting this work, it is donated to… an organization that supports a major charitable cause in Israel."

In the past, the Israel Museum has successfully reunited other Nazi-looted artworks with descendants of their persecuted former owners, returning a Pissarro painting in 2000, a Degas drawing in 2005, and, in 2008, two ancient Roman gold-glass medallions.
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