Gustave Courbet, French
Oil on canvas
18 5/16 x 21 7/8 inches (46.5 x 55.6 cm) Frame: 26 1/2 × 30 1/4 inches (67.3 × 76.8 cm)
The Louis E. Stern Collection, 1963
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Courbet's Nude Reclining by the Sea (1963-181-20), has long been published as belonging during World War II to Paul Rosenberg, an art dealer with offices in Paris and New York. In April 1953, Rosenberg sold the painting to the New York collector Louis E. Stern (1886–1962). Overlooked within this history is the fact that the painting was stolen from Rosenberg by the Nazis in 1941, and spent part of the war in the private art collection of the Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.
The World War II history of the painting was discovered in 1964 when curators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art prepared a catalogue of the recently acquired Louis E. Stern collection. Henry G. Gardiner, then the curator of European painting, was interested in the provenance of works in the collection and wrote to European and American dealers asking for information on Stern's purchases. On behalf of Paul Rosenberg & Co., Alexandre Rosenberg replied to Gardiner in June 1964 that the Courbet was acquired by his father's firm from another dealer in 1933 or 1934 and had been seized during the war by the Nazis. In the late 1940s, the Allies returned the painting to Paul Rosenberg, who was then living in New York City.1
Recent provenance research at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has further documented the wartime history of the painting. An examination of the back of the painting has confirmed that it was confiscated by the ERR, a Nazi task force responsible for the seizure of artworks owned by Jews and Freemasons. "ROSENBERG BORDEAUX" is painted in black capitals onto the stretcher and canvas of the Courbet, identifying the work as one taken from Rosenberg's collection in Bordeaux. In 1939, Rosenberg hid part of his collection in a bank vault near Bordeaux for safe-keeping. On September 5, 1941, the Nazis entered Rosenberg's bank vault and removed 162 paintings.2 The paintings were subsequently sent to Paris and catalogued by the ERR. Traces of this cataloguing are still visible in the form of a typed label in German that is glued to the upper stretcher. The label lists relevant information about the work, including the artist, title, the owner from which it was taken, and the date "December 2, 1941." All of the information on the label corresponds to an ERR card, numbered 'PR 137,' which forms the official Nazi record of the Rosenberg seizure.3 In the lower right corner of the ERR card, now at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, the heading "Verbleib" or "Whereabouts" is marked with the initials HG. These initials are those of the Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, an enthusiastic art collector who used his authority to select seized works for his own collection and for exchange. Other ERR cards with these initials identify paintings taken by Göring.4 Research on this painting is ongoing; we have yet to learn where the Allies found it after the war and precisely when in the late forties it was returned to Paul and Alexandre Rosenberg.Endnotes (Click on the numbers to return to the text) 1 The following is a transcription of Alexandre Rosenberg's letter to Henry G. Gardiner, June 9, 1964, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives, Marceau Object Files; Stern, Louis E. (Collection); Research for Catalogue.
"Dear Mr. Gardiner: I have your letter of June 4th, concerning the Courbet "Reclining Nude" in the Louis E. Stern Collection. . . As it is our custom, we always include all the information at our disposal pertaining to the item sold. In the present case, the details are spotty due to the fact that our pre-war records have been lost. The picture belongs to the numerous group of works of art looted during the war by the Germans, and restituted to us in the late forties. The Courbet was acquired from Bernheim-Jeune, Paris about 1933-34. Previously, it had been exhibited in "Exposition d'Art Français", in 1917, at Paul Rosenberg, Paris, and in the Courbet exhibition held at the Petit Palais, Paris in 1929. I regret that there stops the knowledge of the history of the painting. Hoping however that even so little data might be a help. Sincerely yours,2 A fuller account of the Nazi seizure of Rosenberg's property in Bordeaux may be found in Hector Feliciano, The Lost Museum, New York, 1997, pp. 52–74. 3 National Archives, RG260, OMGUS Property Division, Misc. Records, ERR Card File, 1940–45, Box 19. 4 Nancy H. Yeide, Konstantin Akinsha and Amy L. Walsh, The AAM Guide to Provenance Research, Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 58.
PAUL ROSENBERG & CO.