Heirs donate Mense Painting to the Nationalgalerie of the Staatlichen Museen
Today New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris announced the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) returned three paintings to the heirs of Dr. Ismar Littmann (1878-1934), a prominent attorney, art collector, and supporter of the arts in prewar Breslau, Silesia (present-day Wroclaw, Poland). The returned paintings are Die Ruhende (1911) by Max Pechstein, Selbstbildnis (1925) by Wilhelm Schmid, and Doppelbildnis (Rabbi S. und Tochter) (1925) by Carlo Mense. The heirs in turn donated the Mense painting to the SPK where it will remain accessible to the public at the Nationalgalerie of the Staatlichen Museen to continue to the tell the story of Dr. Littmann and the Nazi campaign to destroy the life of culture of the Jewish people.
The claim for Dr. Littmann’s collection, which was filed in 1998, was among the first art claims filed with the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), now part of the New York State Department of Financial Services. Working closely together, the HCPO and the legal representatives of the Littmann heirs -Cornelia Muggenthaler, Dor Levi, and John Littman - amicably resolved this claim in accordance with the Washington Conference Principles of Nazi-Looted art, which also celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
"At DFS, we are unwavering in our commitment to deliver justice to those who suffered through the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust,” said Adrienne A. Harris, Superintendent of Financial Services. “I’d like to thank SPK for their cooperation throughout this process, returning these invaluable cultural artifacts to the heirs of Dr. Ismar Littmann.”
"Persecution by the National Socialists drove Ismar Littmann to his death. The circumstances are such that a fair and just solution in the spirit of the Washington Principles seemed the only appropriate way forward. I would like to thank the heirs of Ismar and Käthe Littmann for their constructive cooperation," said Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
In the late 1910s, Dr. Littmann began collecting artwork, predominately works by renowned German Fauvist, Impressionist, and Expressionist artists, some of whom he knew personally. By the end of the 1920s, Dr. Littmann had amassed a collection of nearly 6,000 individual works of art.
Dr. Littmann’s persecution began almost immediately after the Nazi’s rise to power in 1933, as Jewish professionals practicing law in Breslau were among the first groups targeted by the Nazi regime. By the spring of 1933, neither Dr. Littmann nor any of his children were able to pursue their careers of choice, and, bereft of any hope for his professional and personal future, Dr. Littmann committed suicide.
Dr. Littmann’s widow was forced to sell a vast majority of works from her late husband’s art collection at the Max Perl auction Nr. 188 on February 26-27,1935. The paintings by Pechstein, Mense, and Schmid were included in this auction, consigned by Dresdner Bank, but they failed to sell and were subsequently included in an August 1935 bulk art sale by Dresdner Bank to the Prussian state. Despite years of diligent research by all parties, details of the relationship between Dr. Littmann and Dresdner Bank remain elusive, but what is clear is that the Dr. Littmann owned these works from at least 1930 and the historical circumstances surrounding the 1935 transactions suggest that the sale by the bank led to a persecution-related loss of the paintings by the family.
The HCPO is a unit of the New York State Department of Financial Services. It was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover: assets deposited in banks; unpaid proceeds of insurance policies issued by European insurers; and artworks that were lost, looted or sold under duress. The HCPO does not charge claimants for its services. To date, the HCPO has responded to thousands inquires and received claims from 46 states and 39 countries. The office has helped secure over $183 million in offers for bank, insurance, and other losses. The office facilitated settlements involving 228 cultural objects.