Die Raubkunst der Nazis in deutschen Wohnzimmern

Eine Sensation und ein mutiger Schritt: Die Geschäftsbücher des Kunsthändlers Adolf Weinmüller werden online veröffentlicht [...]

FAZ, 28.5.2014 | Julia Voss

Provenance research needs much more than well-intended words

“Provenance research and, as such, establishing legal certainty for our customers is part of the NEUMEISTER DNA. This is a subject I started to tackle ten years ago after taking over the company from my father – until today the only auction house in Germany to do so. Should there be even the slightest cause for doubt then I insist on a more in-depth and meticulous check.”

 

 

The works from the last NEUMEISTER auction ‘Modern, Post War & Contemporary Art’ are still hanging in the auction room. Somewhat incongruously, a large painting in a gold frame by Lesser Ury, the Berlin Impressionist, is standing on an easel nearby. It depicts an old brickworks. Two years ago the work was consigned for sale at the long-established auction house in Munich. However, there was a well-founded suspicion that this painting was actually formerly the property of Lucie Meyerheim, who had been forced to leave it behind or sell it before she fled Nazi Germany for Shanghai. The work cannot be put up for auction until the situation is fully clarified.

The director of the auction house, Katrin Stoll, invited Dr. Alfred Grimm, the founding chairman of the Research Association for Provenance Research in Bavaria which was established in 2015, to a discussion about the responsibility – in both the public and private sectors – of locating cultural property disappropriated as a result of Nazi persecution: so-called Nazi-looted art. It is also about the complex search for heirs and restitution, and ‘fair and just solutions’. Twenty-one years after the signing of the ‘Washington Principles’ and twenty years after the ‘Joint Declaration by the Federal Government, the Länder (Federal States) and the National Associations of Local Authorities’, the auctioneer and the curator are both filled with indignation at the government’s shortcomings and, together, draft an agenda for the future …

KATRIN STOLL

I’m very glad that my consignors are so patient and understanding with regard to Nazi-looted art. That’s if they don’t withdraw the items immediately. Two years of research have now gone into Lesser Ury’s ‘Old Brickworks’. I travelled to New York to speak to the heirs as well as the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), who are involved in this case. Now, at last, an agreement is taking shape and it seems we will be able to include the painting in one of our auctions. The proceeds will be divided between the heirs and the consignor on the basis of a predetermined ratio. As there is no government department that can be contacted by those in the art business I have had to deal with all this myself. My own sense of ‘due diligence’ has to suffice. Since the Cultural Property Protection Act came into force on 6 August 2016 the art trade faces legal consequences should it not research a work’s provenance or place cultural property disappopriated as a result of Nazi persecution on the market.

 ALFRED GRIMM

In accordance with § 44, ‘increased due diligence’ is to be shown in the case of every item of cultural property “if it has been proven or is assumed that [it] was taken from its original owner between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 due to National Socialist persecution”. This means that research has to be carried out independently of a work’s value – whether it is a silver spoon or a Lesser Ury. This also applies to public institutions. Provenance research does not take the material value of a work into consideration. And that brings me to a decisive point: Since the Cultural Property Protection Act came into force you, namely the art trade, as well as private sellers are obliged to follow the legal guidelines whereas the Federal Government, the Länder and local authorities are allowed to continue to operate in a ‘non-legally binding sector’, as Sophie Schonberger, Professor of Public Law in Dusseldorf, has established. How public authorities deal with a case continues to depend on the financial means available.

 

KATRIN STOLL

There has been a lot of talk recently about a restitution law …

 ALFRED GRIMM

… that, according to the Minister for Culture and the Media, would be difficult to implement. All that remains is an appeal to private individuals that they should also return Nazi-looted art.

 KATRIN STOLL

At the same time it is being debated as to whether absolute ownership can be acquired at all with regard to cultural property disappropriated as a result of Nazi persecution. Then I ask myself: why isn’t there a state-run trust? The government has to assume responsibility as the legal successor to the Unrechtsstaat. If the Federal Republic had set up an annual reserve since the signing of the ‘Washington Principles’ in 1998, just as every company owner in the face of on-going litigation with demands to an unknown amount would have done, then there would now be sufficient funds for research with ‘fair and just solutions’ in the art trade and the private sector, too.

 ALFRED GRIMM

I’ve had a look to see what funds the Bund has made available through the German Lost Art Foundation since 2015. Starting with a budget of 500,000 euros up to the 7.5 million that have been earmarked for a total of twenty-five projects this year, we come to a figure just shy of 20 million euros – the same amount set aside to repair the forty-metre-high masts on the Gorch Fock tall ship.

 KATRIN STOLL

That’s a superb comparison!

 ALFRED GRIMM

Time and again we hear the same declaration of intent – in November the Minister of State, Monika Grutters, emphasised once more in the Bundestag that “the uncompromising identification and processing of Nazi-looted art inGermany will continue to be of the highest priority in our cultural policy in the future as well”. In the Bavarian regional parliament, the Minister for the Arts and Sciences, Bernd Sibler, affirmed that “the reappraisal of the injustice of the Nazi era is an on-going ethical obligation to which the Free State of Bavaria wants and has to commit itself with conviction”. Politics cannot simply limit itself to such unconditional declarations of intent and rhetoric superlatives of its political will. It is also obliged to honour these by making the necessary resources available.

  KATRIN STOLL

With the creation of a new Ministry for Digital Affairs one can see that politics is perfectly able to react to developments. Only in the field of culture it obviously cannot.

 ALFRED GRIMM

The Bavarian State Government just made around 2 billion euros available for digitalization in its budget plans. That’s a sum with which something can really be achieved.

 KATRIN STOLL

What I miss in Germany are clear structures. Digitalisation has to be pushed forward. We need databases that are constantly updated and are reliable. Fundamental research that has been carried out to date – and a lot has already been done in the different Federal States in this field – together the results of provenance research must be accessible from one centralised point. And the reasons leading to restitutions, too. Everything needs to be linked together. That’s the government’s task.

 ALFRED GRIMM

We urgently need a centralised government department for provenance research under the auspices of the Bund – or, in keeping with our federal constitution – under the Bund, Länder and local authorities. The department’s task would be to carry out all of the research. Provenance researchers, historians and lawyers, with the appropriate qualifications, would then have to work together to process the findings and write dossiers. Basically, it should be along the lines of that model established by the Austrian Commission for Provenance Research which comes under the Office of the Federal Chancellor. It should be an independent body that makes recommendations to the legislative authority. Detailed records and decisions should be made public. Procedures need to be standardised and continuously updated adjustments made, based on decisions reached in concrete cases.

 KATRIN STOLL

That certainly seems very sound. A central place to contact, however, is also needed in less certain cases, for heirs and for the art trade. We need a mediation office where we can be heard. We are not “collaborators” or “profiteers”. As intermediaries we have an important role to play. Berlin has to recognise that we need to work together and not against each other.

 ALFRED GRIMM

In each of the countries that signed the “Washington Principles” there are different institutions dedicated to provenance research and restitution – and the scope of our obligations is growing. At the moment we are talking predominantly about art and not about natural history collections or technical or scientific devices. An awareness of the injustice caused during the colonial era is now beginning to grow. Europe is one common cultural and legal entity. There are regulations for everything in Europe; why are there no common guidelines and common procedures for a binding solution in the case of Nazi-looted art?

 

and was the founding chairman of the Research Association for Provenance Research in Bavaria from 2015 until 2019; since 2019 he has been its honorary chairman.

 

 

When she took over the company from her father she commissioned an independent scholarly appraisal of the history of the company’s predecessor, the Adolf Weinmüller Auktionshaus, during the Nazi era.
The later discovery of source material in the form of annotated Weinmüller auction catalogues led to the creation of a database, established in cooperation with the “Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte” and supported by funding from the “Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste” in Magdeburg, that has since become one of the most frequently consulted aids in provenance research.

 

 

PROVENANCES: case study

Inscribed lower left with an S in the rhombus (incised). Dated "XIT.MDCCCLVII" (1857) on the architrave. Oil on canvas. 48.5 x 26.7 cm. Restored. Framed.

  • Frame verso: handwritten numbering of Central Collecting Point, Munich "9629"
  • Typewritten label with description of the article, numbering "Lfd. Nr. 25" and stamped "Bundespräsidialamt / Bundeseigentum"
  • Exhibition label of Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1985/86
  • Exhibition label of Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2003. Stretcher verso: handwritten inscription: "Lanna K[?] 203" and "Spitzweg"
  • Label with numbering "62", so-called Linz number
  • Stamp of the Central Office for the Preservation of Monuments
  • Label with typewritten inscription "Bonn, Bundespräsidialamt / FIAT JUSTITIA!"
  • Stamped "Bundespräsidialamt / Bundeseigentum"
  • Exhibition label of Haus der Kunst, Munich 1985/86. Cardboard of frame: exhibition label of Seedamm Kulturzentrum with date stamp "08. Jan. 2003"
  • Provenance: Estate of the artist
  • Baron von Lanna Collection, Prague (circa 1906)
  • Leo Bendel Collection (1868-1940), Berlin. - Heinemann Gallery, Munich (1937)
  • Acquired by Maria Almas Dietrich for the planned Führermuseum in Linz (1938)
  • Central Collecting Point, Munich (1945)
  • Office of the Federal President (since 1961)
  • 2019 returned to the heirs after Leo Bendel

PROVENANCES: case study

Carl Spitzwegs "A Goblins Cave" became another auction highlight with the hammer of 82.000 Euro (estimate 50.000) 

Provenance: Major Karl Loreck, Munich (circa 1913). - Munich private collection. - Compulsory sale and mediated by the gallery Almas Dietrich the "special order Linz ". - 1945 Central Collecting Point, Munich, 1949 Central Collecting Point Wiesbaden. - Restituted in 1950 to the family of the former owner. - South German private collection.

PROVENANCES: case study

Just how the professional handling of difficult provenances can provide all parties involved with legal certainty was proven by NEUMEISTER at the beginning of the year (2019) at the auction of a pair of Meissen vases from the 18th century

This is operated by the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg and serves to record cultural assets which, as a consequence of the Nazi dictatorship and the events of World War II, were removed, stored or – especially in the caseof Jewish owners – disappropriated as a result of persecution. In this case, descendants of the Berlin porcelain collector, Hermine Feist (1855–1933), in whose possession these vases had originally been, had launched a search claim. The Feist porcelain collection was one of the largest in Europe and represented virtually the whole spectrum of porcelain objects made in Germany, in its entirety. Hermine Feist lost a large part of her fortune through inflation in the 1920s and, from 1926 onwards, only part of the collection was still in her possession. After her death, the creditor bank took over part of her estate and sold a number of items against the will of the heirs to the Schlossmuseum in Berlin. The remainder of the collection was considered destroyed or lost.

In their shape and decoration they are orientated on Asian models and were exquisite representational pieces even when they were first made around 1730/1735. Once it was known that a search claim had been made, NEUMEISTER immediately contacted the heirs’ lawyers. The aim of the negotiations was to come to a mutual agreement, to establish legal certainty for potential buyers and to delete the entry in the Lost Art register. All this was achieved shortly before the beginning of the auction. 

resulted in a fierce battle at the auction between numerous international bidders on the phones, that one collector secured for himself with a sensational offer.

PROVENANCES: case study

with enamel painting from the early 18th century reached an outstanding price of 80,000 euros (sale under reserve, excluding fees and VAT). 

 

 

 

Just one day before the auction of the ‘Rudolf Neumeister Collection’ – and despite intensive efforts that went far beyond the scope of standard provenance research – NEUMEISTER was informed by the Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha that the saucers to be auctioned from the estate of Rudolf Neumeister had gone missing from its collection during the the war in 1945. A black-and-white photograph in a publication of a very similar but not identical saucer, simply entitled ‘Mythological Scene’, served to back up this claim. The same photo is also to be found six times on the ‘Lost Art’ database. As a gesture of goodwill and to allow the Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein to be able to purchase the objects at a later date, the auctioneer, Katrin Stoll – together with her sisters – decided, for the time being, in favour of a sale under reserve. Negotiations are being held together with the respective ministry in Thuringia, the Ernst-von-Siemens- Stiftung and the Kulturstiftung der Lander.

 

 

the Lost Art database of the German Lost Art Foundation, the Art Loss Register database, the ‘Central Collecting Point Munchen’, the ‘Sammlung des Sonderauftrages Linz’, ‘German Sales 1930–1945’, the ‘Kunstpreis-Verzeichnis 1939–1942’, reports on prices in ‘Weltkunst’ (1930–1944), the ‘Provenienzdatenbank Bund – Fold3 – The Holocaust Collection’, ‘The Nazi Era Provenance International Portal’, the ‘Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume’, the ‘Galerie Heinemann online’, the ‘Bureau Herkomst Gezocht’, the ‘Rekonstruktion des “Fuhrerbau-Diebstahls” Ende April 1945 und Recherchen zum Verbleib der Objekte’ and ‘Frits Lugt. Les marques de Collections de Dessin & d‘Estampes’.