For sale, an £8m haul looted by the Nazis

Evening Standard 23 November 2015
By Robert Dex

Konrad Bernheimer, who now runs the historic Colnaghi art dealership in London, is to auction his family's collection won back from the Nazis at the end of the war

The haul, which includes Roman marbles, old master paintings and sculptures, is now being sold off and is set to fetch almost £8 million.

It began with the great-grandfather of the current owner, Konrad Bernheimer, who started the family business on a market stall in Munich and became one of the world’s leading antiques dealers.

It survived the Second World War despite being seized by the Nazis when the family, who were Jewish, were sent to Dachau concentration camp before being exiled to Venezuela. 

The family returned to Germany at the end of the war and Mr Bernheimer’s grandfather Otto began to re-claim the collection. For the last three decades it has been housed in an 11th-century castle, Burg Marquartstein, bought for that purpose.

Mr Bernheimer, who now runs the historic Colnaghi art dealership in London, said selling the collection at auction at Sotheby’s was a “logical” thing to do.

He added: “When I turned 65 I said I had to slow down and I either closed my Munich gallery or my London gallery and I was not going to go down in history as the last Mr Colnaghi so I closed Munich and decided to sell the castle and once that had gone there was no room.

“When it was there it was just accepted, but seeing it all now at Sotheby’s it seems strange for one family to have so many things. There are some things that we won’t sell, family portraits for example, but I am a logical man and it is the logical thing to do. The story is fantastic and the pieces from my grandfather’s era are all miracles. 

“When all the men in the family were rounded up and sent to the camps the women were allowed to stay at home, which was a miracle, but then the Gestapo came and took everything and many things were lost then and we still don’t know where they are. But [prominent Nazi] Hermann Goering, who had actually been a client of the firm, took it over for the party, changed its name and ran it as business so when my grandfather came back in 1945 and fought to get everything back, and finally succeeded in 1948 and 1949, a lot of the collection was still there.”

Among the 500 lots being auctioned this week are a 19th-century chair, used as a throne by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Munich, which is valued at about £100,000; a landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder, expected to fetch more than £1 million; and a pair of bronze lions from the family’s shop in Munich.
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