Pissarro painting taken by Nazis which belonged to Leicester woman is auctioned for £19.7 million

Leicester Mercury 7 February 2014

  • Gerta Silberberg with a neighbour in 1999

  • Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps, by Camille Pissarro

  • Camille Pissarro

  • Gerta Silberberg with a neighbour in 1999

  • Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps, by Camille Pissarro


A painting which was forcibly sold by the Nazis has now been auctioned for almost £20 million.

The artwork, by French Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, belonged to Gerta Silberberg, of South Knighton, Leicester, who died last year, aged 99.

Called Le Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps, it once belonged to her father-in-law, Max Silberberg, a successful businessman who had a considerable collection of art.

However, he was forced to sell the collection by the Nazis during the 1940s. He and his wife both died in Auschwitz.

Gerta and her husband, Freddie, had earlier fled penniless to England in 1939.

She was a cook for a Leicester doctor, while Freddie worked as a butler.

The painting was restored to the family in 2001 – but Freddie, who died in 1984, never got to see the fortune recovered.

It was sold at auction at Sotheby's, in London, for £19.7 million on Wednesday.

Family lawyer John Simon, a partner with Leicester firm Shakes-peares, knew Gerta for more than 60 years.

He said: "They were a modest couple who led a quiet life.

"Gerta was happy to recover what was rightfully hers when the painting was restored to her, but very much regretted that her husband was unable to benefit from the wealth that gave her.

"Myself and the team have been proud to act for her estate over the years and to see the painting finally sold."

The opening of the German archives in the 1990s revealed the identity of individuals affected by the confiscation of Jewish-owned property during the war. Heirs of Holocaust victims were then able to seek the recovery of their property.

Fourteen years ago, Gerta had the first piece restored to her.

The work, a drawing called L'Olivette, by Vincent Van Gogh, was sold at auction at Sotheby's in December 1999, fetching £5.3 million.

Mr Simon said Gerta continued to live a quiet life after she received the money from the sale of the Van Gogh.

She used the sale proceeds to fund her ongoing search for further works of art that belonged to her father-in-law.

Among them was the brilliant Pissaro painting, which remained on display at the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, with Gerta's consent, until her death. It had been donated to the museum by a US donor, having passed through various hands following the Second World War.

Mr Simon said Shakes-peares would continue to act for the Silberberg estate and be involved in tracking down more works from the original collection.

He would not give any details about the buyer or the benefactors from the Pissarro sale.

There are about 140 works of art still missing from Silberberg collection.

A spokesman for Sotheby's said: "Camille Pissarro's Le Boulevard Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps defied pre-sale expectations, selling for £19.7 million – nearly five times the artist's previous auction record.

"The work was one of the greatest Impressionist pictures to come to auction in a decade."
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