Three Restituted Masterpieces Come to Auction in London

Sotheby's 28 June 2018
By Richard Aronowitz-Mercer

It is rather unusual to have three restituted paintings in one auction, but in our 4 July Old Masters Evening sale we are honoured to be offering three such works. The extremely fine Jacob Ochtervelt painting, looted by German soldiers from a bank vault containing Old Master Paintings from the collection of Dr. J.H. Smidt van Gelder in an evacuated and war-ravaged Arnhem in early 1945, was restituted to the Smidt van Gelder heirs in 2017.

The Ochtervelt’s extraordinary history mirrors that of Arnhem, the Netherlands and Europe during Nazism and World War Two and you can read the full story HERE

The Von Klemperer heirs recently had restituted to them by the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany a beautiful painting by an artist known to art history as the Master of the Female Half-Lengths. This serene canvas, which was painted in Antwerp during the first half of the sixteenth century, depicts a young female lute player. She is absorbed in the music that she is making, head bowed in concentration as she plays, contemplating the book of music that lies on the table in front of her.

It is a very fine composition that makes wonderful use of the quiet drama of light and shade. The canvas was acquired in malign circumstances by the Rheinisches Landesmuseum from the Jewish collector Ralph von Klemperer (1884-1956) in 1937. The museum restituted the painting to his heirs only this year.

In February 2018 the heirs of the Jewish collectors from Hamburg Henry and Hertha Bromberg received back from the French State a very fine triptych of the Crucifixion painted on panel by an Antwerp Master (circa 1515-1520), who worked on the figures, and Joachim Patinir, who painted the beautiful landscape behind them.

It is always interesting to note that collectors of Jewish background, particularly in Germany but I am sure elsewhere, too, collected a significant number of works with strongly Christian iconography, and that is certainly the case with this triptych. The Brombergs fled Hamburg and Nazi Germany for Paris in 1938 with their children and they were forced to sell off works during their flight and in their exile in order to survive.  The triptych was sold under duress through the dealers Hans Wendland and Allen Loebl in Paris and it was discovered by the Allies in Munich at the end of World War Two.

It was repatriated to France with unknown pre-war ownership and it ended up in the custody, so to speak, of the French State amongst a large group of pictures known as Musées Nationaux Récupération (“National Museums Recovery”) works: paintings and works on paper that were distributed to regional and national museums for safekeeping and display, or simply to be held for decades in their storage facilities, until their rightful owners came along to claim them.

The Bromberg heirs’ researchers, working from a black-and-white photograph of the family’s former home in Hamburg, identified the triptych almost eight decades after their grandparents were forced to sell it and tracked it down to a regional museum in France.

Richard Aronowitz-Mercer is a Senior Director and head of the Restitution Department in Europe.

CLICK HERE to find out more about Sotheby’s Restitution Department.
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