Three works recently restituted from German and Swiss museums are to be sold at auction at the Villa Grisebach in Berlin on 1st June. They are Adolph Menzel’s Portrait of the Sister from 1850, Wilhelm Leibl’s “Appelationsrat Stenglein” from 1971 and Ludwig von Hoffmann’s Springstorm from around 1895. These three major 19th century works were stolen from the Mosse family, whose head Rudolph Mosse died in 1920 in Prussia from a heart attack. He left an illegitimate and then adopted daughter called Felicia and a son-in-law Hans Lachmann-Mosse, who together kept his important publisher and newspaper business running. When the Nazis closed it down and took everything from them, the first part of their property was sold in May 1934 at Rudolph Lepke’s Kunst-Auktionshaus in Berlin, a sale that had been organised by the dealer Karl Haberstock. A week later the Union auction house sold further works and furniture belonging to the Mosse family.
As often happens, some people criticise the family for selling the restituted works instead of leaving them in public collections, but the author Ulrike Knoefel, writes that this criticism is not valid, as the injustice is that the works were hidden for so long. As Germany and other countries endorsed the Washington Principles in 1998, these works should not still have been hidden in public collections. As Ronald Lauder recently told Der Spiegel, Germany has not done nearly enough work in researching looted works in its public collections. This leads to many museums knowing that they have looted works in their collections, but not sharing the information.
What is important, is that the firm who represents the family, the California-basedBartko Zankel Bunzel, is in touch with many more institutions and German museums, which leads to Ulrike Knoefel believing that there will be more law suits on behalf of the Mosses but also on behalf of other families.