Pensive Young Brunette ● Nude Reclining by the Sea ● Purim ● Composition with Blue ● Proun 2
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pensive Young Brunette
In the course of provenance research on the European painting collection, the Museum discovered that a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pensive Young Brunette (1963-181-18), had been confiscated by the Nazis from the French collector Alphonse Kann. In 1945 the painting was found by the Allies in a salt mine in Austria, and in July 1946 it was returned to Kann. The World War II history of the painting highlights the systematic seizure of works of art by the Nazis and the activities of the Allies to return those works to their rightful owners, as well as the efforts of researchers today to understand fully and document these activities.
The Corot painting was sold in the posthumous sale of the artist on May 26–June 9, 1875, where it was purchased by Monsieur Legendre of Paris. It was subsequently in the collection of Alexis Rouart (1839–1911), a Parisian engineer whose collections were sold on his death in 1911. Prior to World War II, the Corot portrait formed part of the noted collection of Alphonse Kann (1870–1948). At his townhouse at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, Kann assembled important Impressionist and Modern masters as well as Gothic tapestries, Medieval objects, and Pre-Columbian art.1 Because his large collection was seized and meticulously catalogued by the Nazis, Kann’s name is among the "red-flag" names in provenance research. In the spring of 1940, as the Nazis approached Paris, Kann fled Paris for London. He was unable to remove or hide his collection of more than 1202 objects, and it was confiscated in the autumn of 1940 by a Nazi task force called the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg or "Special Task Force of the Reich Leader [Alfred] Rosenberg") on the grounds that it was "abandoned property."
The ERR was the dominant Nazi agency responsible for the seizure of works of art in occupied France. An efficient and well-planned organization, the ERR established a complex record-keeping and cataloguing system in order to document the removal and dispersal of artwork from Jewish collections. They used a series of letters and numbers to identify each seized object and its origin. Such ERR codes often included the initials of a collector and an inventory number that is unique to each object and corresponds to a card containing the artist, title, dimensions, and other relevant information for each object. In the case of Alphonse Kann’s collection, ERR cataloguers used the letters 'Ka' to identify works from his collection. Between 1941–42, the ERR catalogued Kann’s collection at the Jeu de Paume, a building in the Tuilleries Garden that had been used before the war as a gallery for Impressionist and modern paintings. The Philadelphia Corot was presumably one of the earliest paintings catalogued by the ERR because the code 'Ka 38' is painted on the stretcher [see detail of back], indicating that it was the 38th object (of an eventual 1202) to be recorded from the collection of Alphonse Kann.
The ERR cards were seized by the Allies after the war and today are extremely useful to provenance researchers. Now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, the ERR cards relating to Kann’s collection were consulted to discover that card 'Ka 38' describes a Corot portrait of a woman with dimensions matching those of the Philadelphia painting.2 It is not known where the painting was between 1942–45, but in May 1945 it was recovered by the Allies along with a significant, though far from complete, portion of Kann’s collection. In Munich the Allies established a collecting point to assemble, catalogue, and return to their countries of origin, works of art that were discovered in warehouses and repositories throughout Europe. Munich Central Collecting Point card no. 366/Aussee 292/2 documents the discovery of the Corot painting, described as a "portrait of a sitting lady" having the identifying mark 'Ka 38,' in the salt mine at Alt Aussee.3 Notes on the back of the card indicate that the painting arrived at the Munich Central Collecting Point on June 23, 1945, and was sent to Paris on May 23, 1946.
After working to determine their owners, the Munich Central Collecting Point sent paintings back to their countries of origin. The Corot (item no. 119) was included in a shipment of 594 items sent to Paris under the authority of Captain Hubert de Brye on May 23, 1946.4 The shipment included works from the Kann collection as well as those of other French collectors. Upon the painting’s arrival in Paris, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged for its return to Kann. Recent correspondence with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that the painting was restituted to a representative of Kann in July 1946. Shortly thereafter it may have been placed with the André Weil Gallery in Paris by a representative of Kann or his family. On May 31, 1949, André Weil sold the Corot to the American collector Louis E. Stern of New York; Stern gave it to the Museum in 1963.
1 H. Feliciano, The Lost Museum, New York, 1997, pp. 110-11.
Courbet's Nude Reclining by the Sea
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.
PAUL ROSENBERG & CO.
Marc Chagall’s Purim
Before the Nazi rise to power, the Museum Folkwang in Essen was a leader in the collecting and display of modern art in Germany. By 1934 Hitler’s government had dismissed the Folkwang’s progressive director and replaced him with the ardent Nazi Count Klaus von Baudissin, an SS officer and art historian. One of the Count’s first acts was to paint over the museum’s famous murals by the German Expressionist Oskar Schlemmer. Baudissin also served on the Ziegler commission, responsible for impounding "degenerate" art from German museums. From the Museum Folkwang the commission seized and dispatched to Munich an astounding total of 1,202 works of art, including Chagall’s Purim, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Louis E. Stern Collection. The painting—the Folkwang’s only Chagall—had been acquired in the 1920s by the previous director, Ernst Gosebruch.1 Set in a Russian town, its theme is the celebration of Jewish festival of Purim, which commemorates the deliverance of the Persian Jews. In the center a boy carries Purim sweets from the market stall-keeper on the right. Nazi officials chose Purim, along with three other works by Chagall, for display in the notorious Degenerate Art exhibition, which opened in Munich in July 1937.
Although the propaganda surrounding the Degenerate Art exhibition emphasized its "Jewishness," of the 112 artists represented in the exhibition, only 6 were Jews, including Chagall. Chagall was a Russian-born artist who spent most of his career in France. Most likely he was included in the Degenerate Art exhibition because his early work had become famous in Germany. Purim was displayed in Room 2 of the exhibition, which contained only works by Jewish artists. On the walls quotations from Hitler and the Nazi art theorist Alfred Rosenberg (soon to become head of the art-looting task force, the ERR) condemned the "incompetents and charlatans," the "Jews and Marxists," whose works appeared there.2
Following the Degenerate Art exhibition the German dealer Ferdinand Möller, one of the four appointed to dispose of the confiscated art, exchanged Purim for other artwork.3 The Berlin collector and gallery owner Dr. Kurt Feldhäusser next acquired the painting, probably directly from Möller. Although German citizens were prohibited by law from buying "degenerate art," in practice the ban was often ignored. Feldhäusser, in fact, seems to have made a specialty of acquiring Nazi-condemned art from German museums, especially works by Chagall and by Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. After Feldhäusser died in a bombing raid on Frankfurt in 1944, Purim was brought to the U.S. by his mother Marie Luisa. She sold it through a New York dealer, Erhard Weyhe, to New York collector Louis E. Stern on October 11, 1949. 4
1 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Museum der Gegenwart - Kunst in öffentlichen Sammlungen bis 1937 (exhibition catalog), Düsseldorf, 1987, p. 106.
2 Barron, ed., "Degenerate Art", 1991, pp. 52, 218-219.
3 The painting, designated number 15949, is marked "T" for Tausch (exchange) in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) confiscation inventory. Such exchanges of art (usually twentieth-century works for more desirable nineteenth-century art), became common after the German declaration of war in September 1939 made it difficult to obtain foreign currency; see Andreas Hüneke, "On the Trail of Missing Masterpieces," in Barron, ed., "Degenerate Art", p. 128. We are grateful to Margaret Doyle at the Smithsonian Institution for providing a copy of the confiscation register entry. The original typescript inventory is at the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, bequest of Harry Fischer.
4 Dated receipt in PMA Archives, Stern files.
Composition with Blue by Piet Mondrian
In the early 1920s, Piet Mondrian began a friendship with Sophie Küppers (1891–1978), a German citizen living in Hanover and the widow of Paul Küppers (d. 1922), artistic director of the progressive Kestner Society. Küppers, later known as Sophie Küppers-Lissitzky after she married the artist El Lissitzky in 1927, hoped to promote Mondrian’s work in her country and asked him to send paintings on consignment for her to sell in Germany. In 1924 he sent four canvases, which she showed to Alexander Dorner, the director of the Hanover Provinzialmuseum (also known as the Landesmuseum); Dorner purchased one of them for the museum.1 In 1926, Mondrian painted the unusual diamond-shaped Composition with Blue.
As a major proponent of modern abstract and Expressionist art in Germany Dorner was forced to resign his position as director of the Hanover Provinzialmuseum in 1936. He left Germany and became director of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in 1938. As Dorner recalled, Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, together with Lissitzky’s Proun 2, once hung in the famous Abstract Gallery (Abstraktes Kabinett) of the Hanover museum. In 1937, as part of its campaign against "degenerate art", the Nazi government dismantled the Abstract Gallery and confiscated some 270 works from the museum.2 Although Composition with Blue is known to have been one of those seized, its ownership presented a puzzle. The painting does not appear in the records of the Hanover museum, the 1930 catalog of the museum’s holdings, or in the official list of works owned by museum at the time of the Nazi seizures.3 Only one Mondrian is listed; this is almost certainly the painting purchased through Küppers in 1924, which was sent to the Nazi-organized "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich in 1937 and is now lost. 4 Oddly, Composition with Blue does not appear either on the list of confiscated works on loan to the museum at the time. Again, only one Mondrian is recorded: most likely the 1926 painting entitled Schilderij No. 2, listed in the museum’s 1930 catalog as a loan from the Sophie Küppers collection.5
An obvious question presented itself: Could the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Composition with Blue also have belonged to Sophie Küppers-Lissitzky? She lent thirteen works by various artists from her private collection to the Hanover Provinzialmuseum in 1926 before moving to Russia, all of which were confiscated in 1937 as part of the "degenerate art" campaign. Normally, Nazi officials returned or compensated for privately owned works impounded from museums; Küppers’ collection represents an exception. Most likely she was singled out for punishment not only because she had emigrated to Russia, thereby forfeiting her German citizenship and rights in the eyes of the Reich, but also because she was married to Lissitzky, a prominent supporter of the Soviet Union’s Communist regime and a Jew. The Lissitzkys’ son and heir, Jen Lissitzky, has recently sought the return of several confiscated works from his mother’s collection now housed at other museums (two of which have been returned).6 The thirteen paintings in question are listed in a document written by Sophie Küppers when the works were entrusted to the Hanover museum.7 However, only one Mondrian appears on the list, and this is almost certainly the painting Schilderij No. 2, recorded in the museum’s 1930 catalog as her loan. Together with Composition with Blue, this work was confiscated from the museum in 1937 and stored at Schloss Niederschönhausen (see below), where it was registered as number 7034, the number preceding Composition with Blue. Its whereabouts today are unknown.
Since there is no doubt that Composition with Blue was at the Hanover museum in 1937, it must have been present as an unofficial loan. The question is who owned it, if not Sophie Küppers? The likeliest scenario is that Mondrian consigned the painting to Küppers after it was exhibited in Amsterdam in 1926, hoping she could sell it to the Hanover museum for him, as she had done with his earlier painting. Later, before leaving Germany for Russia in 1927, Küppers probably asked Dorner to keep Composition with Blue in storage, still hoping for a chance to sell it to the museum in the future and little anticipating that it would fall victim to a Nazi purge.8 Therefore, Mondrian himself was probably the owner of the painting at the time of its confiscation.
The "purification" of German museums continued until March 1938. A salesroom was set up in the Schloss Niederschönhausen outside of Berlin, where the most "exploitable" works of art were collected (that is, those with the highest potential resale value on the international art market), totaling 780 paintings and 3,500 works of art on paper.9 Composition with Blue was sent to Niederschönhausen, as demonstrated by a label on the back of the painting stamped with the number 7035, which corresponds to the "Degenerate Art" confiscation register.10 From there, the painting made its way to the dealer Karl Buchholz, and then to his associate Curt Valentin (see Lissitzky, Proun 2). Neither Composition with Blue nor Lissitzky’s Proun 2 appeared in the notorious "Entartete Kunst" exhibition of 1937.
The New York collector Albert E. Gallatin purchased the painting, along with Proun 2, from Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery in New York on August 24, 1939. Mondrian was informed of the travels of his painting and apparently approved of its eventual home in the U.S.: in a letter to Ben Nicholson of December 6, 1939, Mondrian noted that "[Gallatin] has bought also one of my two Hannover museum pictures, rejected by Hitler."11 In late 1940 Mondrian offered to restore his painting at Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art in New York.12 Composition with Blue was bequeathed by Gallatin to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1952.
1 Sophie Küppers-Lissitzky, El Lissitzky, Greenwich, Conn., 1968, p. 52. The Hanover Provinzialmuseum is now known as the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum; the modern art collections are housed at the Sprengel Museum.
2 Samuel Cauman, The Living Museum: Experiences of an Art Historian and Museum Director, Alexander Dorner, New York, 1958, pp. 55, 119, repr. p. 62 and p. 63 (both horizontally). For discussion and photographs of the Abstract Gallery as installed, see Cauman, pp. 100-103, and Alexander Dorner, The Way Beyond 'Art', New York, 1958, pp. 114-116.
3 See letter from Joop Joosten, May 14, 1983, in curatorial file, regarding his research in the museum’s records; see Alexander Dorner, Katalog der Kunstsammlungen im Provinzialmuseum zu Hannover, Hanover, 1930, Bd. 1, p. 274; and Landesmuseum Hanover, Beschlagnahme-Aktion im Landesmuseum Hannover, 1937: Liste der konfiszierten Werke und unveröffentliche Dokumente, Hanover, 1983, section entitled "Gemälde aus dem Besitz der Landesgalerie Hannover", for the museum’s holdings and for the list of confiscated works.
4 Joop Joosten, Piet Mondrian: Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, Blaricum and Paris, 1998, no. B149.
5 Joosten catalog no. B174, illus. Schilderij No. 2 was described in the 1930 catalog of the Hanover Provinzialmuseum (Bd. 1, p. 274) as "Abstrakte Komposition in Schwarzem Rahmenwerk mit Blau, Gelb, Schwarz und verschieden hellgrauen und weißen Tönen" (abstract composition within a black framework with blue, yellow, black and various light gray and white tones), "Leihgabe der Slg. Küppers" (loan from the Küppers collection). It was also photographed as installed in the museum’s Abstract Gallery; for references see the Joosten catalog entry. The list of confiscated works on loan to the museum is published in Beschlagnahme-Aktion im Landesmuseum Hannover, 1937 (see note 3), section entitled "Gemälde aus fremden Besitz, die sich als Leihgabe in der Landesgalerie Hannover befanden."
6 See Art News, Summer 1992, Apr. 2001, Sept. 2001, and June 2002.
7 The Philadelphia Museum of Art is indebted to Joop Joosten for providing a copy of this document, entitled, "Sammlung Dr. P. E. Küppers als Leihgabe übergeben zu Händen von Dr. Alexander Dorner an das Provinzial-Museum der Stadt Hannover, 1926."
8 Letter from Joosten, November 15, 2001, in curatorial file, and Catalogue Raisonné, 1998, vol. 2, pp. 133 and 324.
9 Nicholas, Rape of Europa, pp. 24-25; and Barron, ed., Degenerate Art, pp. 125, 128-129. The remaining 16,000 or more works filled storerooms at the Köpenicker Strasse.
10 Joosten, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, pp. 323-324.
11 Quoted by Joosten, Catalogue Raisonné, p. 323. Mondrian seems to have forgotten that the Hanover Museum actually housed three of his paintings: the one bought by the museum in 1924, the one on loan from Küppers, and Composition with Blue, all of which were confiscated.
12 See letter from Mondrian to W. Nicholson, quoted in Joosten, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, p. 323.
Proun 2 by the Russian artist El Lissitzky
The Russian Jewish artist El Lissitzky gave the name "Proun", an abbreviation of the Russian words meaning "Project for the establishment of a new art," to a group of his abstract works. Proun 2 was one in a total of 46 oil paintings, drawings, and watercolors by Lissitzky that the Städtisches Museum fümlr Kunst und Kunstgewerbe (Municipal Museum of Fine and Applied Arts) in Halle, Germany purchased in 1929.1 At an undetermined date before 1937, the Halle museum loaned it to the Hanover Provinzialmuseum (also known as the Landesmuseum).
Alexander Dorner (1893-1957), the director of the Hanover Provinzialmuseum until his forced resignation by the Nazis in 1936, recollected that Mondrian’s Composition with Blue and Lissitzky’s Proun 2 were displayed in the museum’s groundbreaking Abstract Gallery (Abstraktes Kabinett) designed by Lissitzky in 1927-28.2 A 1958 Art News article by Ella Winter quotes a letter from Dorner’s widow, stating that "the Lissitzkys you refer to hung in the Abstract Gallery; [the gallery] was destroyed by the Nazis while my husband was opening the first Munich exhibition in London. When he returned he found that unique and beautiful room dismantled and himself accused of promoting 'degenerate' art. The Lissitzky on loan was sold . . . and is now in the Philadelphia Museum."3
The "EK" (Entartete Kunst) confiscation inventory number 14283 is stamped on a label on the back of the painting. It is not certain where the painting was stored after confiscation. Four prominent German dealers were appointed to market the inventory of confiscated works, including Karl Buchholz. Buchholz, owner of the Buchholz Gallery in Berlin, was the mentor and pre-war partner of Curt Valentin (1902-1954), who named the New York gallery he opened in 1937 in Buchholz’ honor. Valentin, a German citizen, left Germany in 1937 to go into exile but maintained contact with Buchholz, with whose help he was able to acquire much of the art that established him as a major New York dealer of modern art. 4
Albert Eugene Gallatin, the pioneering American collector of twentieth-century art, purchased both Lissitzky’s Proun 2 and Mondrian’s Composition with Blue for his Museum of Living Art in New York from Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery on August 24, 1939, knowing that they had come from the Hanover Provinzialmuseum.5 In 1952 Gallatin bequeathed his collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Hanover Provinzialmuseum is now known as the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum; the modern art collections are housed at the Sprengel Museum. The Städtisches Museum in Halle was later incorporated into what is now known as the Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg Halle. The Moritzburg museum in Halle is aware of the present whereabouts of the painting, one of some 200 works lost to the "degenerate art" campaign of 1937.6
1 See Andreas Hüneke, Die faschistische Aktion "Entartete Kunst" 1937 in Halle, Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg Halle, 1987, p. 38, no. 42; Im Kampf um die moderne Kunst: Das Schicksal einer Sammlung in der 1.Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, exhibition catalog, Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg Halle, , p. 48 and p. 52; and Peter Nisbet, ed., El Lissitzky 1890-1941, (exhibition catalog, Busch-Reisinger Museum), Cambridge, MA, 1987, listed in Proun inventory, no. 14, p. 160.
2 Samuel Cauman, The Living Museum: Experiences of an Art Historian and Museum Director, Alexander Dorner, New York, 1958, p. 55, repr. p. 62 and p. 63, respectively (both horizontally). For discussion and photographs of the Abstract Gallery as installed, see Cauman, pp. 100-103, and Alexander Dorner, The Way Beyond 'Art', New York, 1958, pp. 114-116.
3 "Lissitzky: A Revolutionary Out of Favor," Art News, April 1958, p. 63.
4 Lynn Nicholas, Rape of Europa, New York, 1994, pp. 3, 24; Nancy Yeide, et al., AAM Guide to Provenance Research, Washington, D.C., 2001, pp. 239, 290.
5 Dated receipt in PMA Archives, Gallatin files.
6 See the book by Hüneke, cited above, which is published by the Moritzburg museum in Halle.