February 18, 2011

Painting returned to family of holocaust victims by Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum

Posted at 1:48 pm in Similar cases

A painting by Hans Baldung Grien, the belonged to the German Gutmann family & was taken by the Nazis, has been returned to the descendants of its original owners, once the museum that held it was alerted to the details of the provenance of the painting.

Star Ledger (New Jersey)

Azadeh Ardakani
Rutgers University art museum returns rare painting to family of Holocaust victims
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 8:45 AM
By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger

NEW BRUNSWICK — The 16th Century painting by German artist Hans Baldung Grien has traveled thousands of miles and passed through many owners — some evil, some desperate to bargain for their lives — before returning to the family who owned it 70 years ago.

It was once a part of the renowned collection of Friedrich (Fritz) and Louise Gutmann, German bankers who displayed works by Bosch, Botticelli, Renoir and Degas at their Dutch estate.

In 1941, it was one of seven paintings the Gutmanns transferred to Adolf Hitler in return for the promise of safe passage to Italy, according to family history. Two years later, SS officers took the couple from their home and both died in concentration camps.

The Baldung Grien painting never made it to Hitler, according to its provenance. It just vanished.

Last Friday, at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, the Gutmanns’ grandson was reunited with the rare work in an emotional moment at the New Brunswick institution.

“It was really touching, to have this painting given back to them. There was a lot of joy,” said Zimmerli director Suzanne Delehanty, who watched as Simon Goodman of Los Angeles took possession of the 18-by-13-inch work the museum owned for 50 years.

“I think we all felt … in a small way, we can do something to heal that horrible mark.”

The Old Master painting was donated to Rutgers University in 1959 and it became part of the Zimmerli when the museum was founded in 1966. The Zimmerli was to feature the work in a new exhibition of its European collection opening in April.

Instead, it quietly gave it away.

Goodman had been searching for the work since 1994, but learned only last year it was part of the Zimmerli collection. Baldung Grien, who painted the work, “Portrait of a Young Man,” in 1509, is considered to be one of the most gifted students of the great Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, who had a workshop in Nuremburg.

“It was September of 2009 and I get this phone call from a man with a lovely British accent,” said Delehanty, who had been head of the Zimmerli for only a few months. “He said, ‘I believe the Zimmerli has a painting that belongs to my family.’ ”

The painting was one of some 60 Old Master and Impressionist works included in the Gutmann collection, which was well-known in Europe before the war. In 1941, it caught the attention of Karl Haberstock, an art dealer representing Hitler. According to the Zimmerli, Haberstock presented the Gutmanns’ agent with an order to turn over seven works, including the Baldung Grien portrait. The bankers complied, but when the shipment arrived in Berlin, one painting was missing.

Despite transferring the art to German authorities, the Gutmanns were not protected. In 1943, SS officers took the couple from their Netherlands estate to the train station and from there to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Fritz Gutmann died there; Louise Gutmann was transferred to Auschwitz, where she died.

The whereabouts of the Baldung Grien painting are unclear after it disappeared between the Netherlands and Berlin. According to its provenance printed in the Christie’s catalogue, where it will be up for auction Jan. 26, it was on the market in London and New York in 1948 and 1953, respectively. It was purchased by Rudolf Heinemann, a dealer and collector, in New York in 1954. Heinemann gave the painting to Rutgers five years later.

Delehanty said the university museum spent the last year doing research to confirm the painting was part of the Gutmann collection and that Goodman was the true representative of the family.

“Our first reaction was we will do the right thing. We were all on the same page from the very beginning,” said Delehanty. “(Goodman) obviously had done enormous research and he gave us all the documents. ”

Immediately after the war, the Gutmann children, Bernard (Simon’s father) and Lili, began searching for the artwork. Goodman and his brother, Nicholas, took up their father’s search after his death in 1994. The family has recovered much of the collection, though this piece eluded them and the governments of France, the Netherlands and West Germany, according to the Zimmerli.

“They decided as a tribute to their father, they would go and really try to find the pictures, they would carry on his quest,” Delehanty said.

The return of looted art is a hot topic in museum circles, and the Goodman/Gutmann collection and the family’s efforts to reclaim their works has been instrumental in creating policies and guidelines for museums. The settlement of a Degas pastel in 1998 prompted a conference attended by 44 nations, and that led to the adoption of principles for resolving the issue of Nazi-confiscated art.

“Their work on that really led the museum world to be more attentive, to really look at this in a much more systematic way,” Delehanty said.

That case also led the Association of Art Museum Directors to create a set of guidelines, and it prompted the creation of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which assists families in reclaiming art and objects looted by the Nazis.

The Baldung Grien painting is the first at the Zimmerli to be reclaimed by descendants of families robbed by the Nazis. The work is estimated to bring $200,000 to $300,000 at the Christie’s auction later this month.

“We would have loved to have been able to have kept it, but wallets are not fat these days. The family didn’t feel they were in a position to give it to us,” said Delehanty, noting there are three heirs to the couple’s collection: daughter Lili Gutmann, who is 91 and living in Florence, Italy, and grandsons Simon and Nicholas.

The outcome, even with the upcoming auction, is still a good one, she said.

“If it had to leave the possession of Rutgers,” she said, “this was the reason for it to leave.”

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