1581 Antwerpen–1642 ebenda


L. u. signiert „D° FFRANCK IN. F.“.
Rücks. Reste eines Sammlungssiegels (lediglich die Bekrönung des Wappens ist noch erkennbar).
Öl auf Holz.
33 × 79 cm

AUKTION 410 // LOT 558
ERGEBNIS € 58.500 (inkl. 30 % Käuferaufgeld)





In 2008, the BR television program "Kunst & Krempel" presented the "Sermon on the Mount" by the Antwerp Baroque painter Frans Francken (1581-1642). A Munich art historian recognized the painting as one of the pictures stolen from the NSDAP's "Führerbau" on the night of April 30, 1945. With the television appearance, an odyssey began for the painting, which can now find a good end after 15 years with the auction on September 20, 2023 at NEUMEISTER in Munich.

In the turmoil before the American invasion of Munich, more than 600 valuable works of art disappeared during the so-called "Führerbau theft", purchased or stolen for the so-called "Führer Museum" that Hitler had planned in Linz. Around 100 of them resurfaced after the war, but the majority have disappeared to this day: one of the largest and still unsolved art thefts of the 20th century. After the looting, the "Sermon on the Mount" by Frans Francken was in the possession of a Munich citizen, who gave it to his daughter as a gift for moving out into her own apartment, who had no idea of the painting's origin and history. The son of the presentee presented the painting at "Kunst & Krempel", and in September 2009 it was seized by the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office.

Initially, the artwork was stored there in the evidence room, then in the depot of the Pinakothek museums in Munich, while attempts were made to locate the original owners. It is documented by sources in Germany and France that the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt had purchased the wooden panel with the unusual horizontal format in occupied France in the fall of 1943 for 7,500 Reichsmarks (150,000 francs) and sold it for 10,000 Reichsmarks to the staff of the "Führer Museum" in Linz.

Five years after the seizure, the nieces of the son, who had also died in the meantime, claimed in court as heirs the restitution of the painting, which was still in the custody of the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office.

A supposed clarification of the provenance then brought more confusion into the already complicated matter: as an acquisition for the "Führer Museum" in Linz, the painting was the property of the German Reich and, in its legal succession, of the Federal Republic of Germany. The work of art thus fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues, under whose responsibility research was now begun. It was believed that they had quickly found what they were looking for, because a "Sermon on the Mount" by Frans Francken was mentioned on two appraisal lists for the declaration of Jewish property with the collector Vally Honig from Vienna. Since the relevant catalog raisonné on the artist mentions only one painting with this theme, the Federal Office was led to the conclusion that the work from the collection of Vally Honig could be identified with the one from the "Führer Museum". Thus, the painting had to be considered a clear case of looted art, since the entire Honig collection in Austria is classified as having been seized by the Gestapo. Now, one might think that this would make the responsibility of the Federal Republic for the picture seized from a Jewish family obvious! But no - on the contrary, the competent district court argued exactly the other way around: Because the "Sermon on the Mount" had been seized, the painting had never been the legal property of the Reich - and therefore the Federal Republic could not claim any right to the painting today.

The public authorities - embodied by the executive and the judiciary - had thus discharged themselves of their responsibility for the painting and delegated this responsibility, including the claim that it was Nazi looted art, to the heirs of the "Sermon on the Mount" who were entitled to their property rights.

What could now be their responsibility? First and foremost, to research the history and the origin of the painting with all due care and patience and to communicate it transparently. In the case of the "Sermon on the Mount", a great deal of effort has indeed been made since 2014, accelerated once again by the auction house NEUMEISTER, to which the painting was consigned nine years ago. Today, therefore, we are richer by a few insights, among other things after a research project of the Central Institute for Art History on the "Führer's Theft" (2014 to 2018), a much-noticed appearance of the painting at the symposium on Nazi looted art of the Protestant Academy Tutzing in 2015 and two major exhibitions on the complex "Gurlitt" in Bonn and Berlin, which presented the painting to the public as a loan. Today, it is agreed that the painting can hardly be identical with the work that was seized from the Honig family in Vienna. The trace of the painting clearly leads to France, but even the elaborate investigations of the so-called "Taskforce Gurlitt" have not yet yielded any clues to the previous owners of the "Sermon on the Mount," from whom Gurlitt or his art agents acquired the painting in 1944. 

Acht Jahre Forschung und Recherche konnten die Herkunft nicht zweifelsfrei eruieren. Was folgt aus diesem Befund? Die Grenzen der Zumutbarkeit für die jetzigen Eigentümer sind jedenfalls schon lange überschritten. Wer könnte die Verantwortung für das Bild übernehmen, wenn nicht jener Staat, der sich vor Jahren aus der Verantwortung gewunden hat? Die kommende Auktion lässt sich vor diesem Hintergrund nicht anders bezeichnen als eine wahrlich typische Lösung für die neoliberale Grundierung der Wirtschaftswunderrepublik – „Der Markt wird es schon regeln“. Aber ist dort die Verantwortung wirklich gut aufgehoben? Insbesondere im Jubiläumsjahr der Washington Principles. Tatsache ist allerdings, dass kaum ein Objekt den status quo in Deutschland so verkörpert wie diese Holztafel und ihre Geschichte.

By Patrick Rosenow, lawyer in Munich

After the painting had come to the public's attention via the TV program "Kunst & Krempel" and the Munich I public prosecutor's office had opened preliminary proceedings against unknown persons for receiving stolen goods in 2009, the niece of the painting's then 92-year-old owner came forward and voluntarily handed over the painting to the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office at the beginning of September 2009 in order to conduct investigations. In December 2009, the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues contacted the owner with a request to surrender the painting to the Federal Republic of Germany so that it could be returned to the owner or his heirs, if necessary. In the opinion of the Federal Republic of Germany, the painting had been the property of the German Reich, which became federal property pursuant to Article 134 (1) of the Basic Law. The owner, on the other hand, invoked the fact that she had acquired ownership of the painting by way of acquisitive prescription pursuant to Section 937 of the German Civil Code. Acquisition of ownership by adverse possession occurs when a movable object has been in the owner's possession in good faith for ten years. The 92-year-old lady had received the painting as a gift from her parents when she moved out into her own apartment. She had no knowledge of how her parents came into possession of the painting. Nevertheless, the owner was willing to return the painting to a proven former owner or his heirs. A corresponding restitution did not take place, because a former owner could not be demonstrably determined. The owner died in 2012. The preliminary proceedings had already been discontinued by the Munich Public Prosecutor's Office I in August 2010. In February 2014, the competent investigating judge at Munich Local Court issued an order ordering the Federal Republic of Germany to assert its rights to the seized painting before the competent civil court, otherwise the painting would be returned to the owner or her heir pursuant to section 111k of the old version of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In the opinion of the court, it was not the Federal Republic of Germany but the last owner who acquired ownership of the "Sermon on the Mount" by way of acquisitive prescription pursuant to Section 937 of the German Civil Code. At the end of May 2014, the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office released the painting to the owner or her heir.

„Bergpredigt“ aus Hitler-Besitz versteigert – Chefin des Auktionshauses nennt Details | 28. September 2023 | Susanne Spindler