Why was the Sale of the Guelph Treasure not a Forced Sale?

Why was the Sale of the Guelph Treasure not a Forced Sale?

The historical evidence clearly shows that although certain members of the consortium that sold the Guelph Treasure in 1935 were Jewish, the sale does not qualify as a forced sale due to Nazi persecution. Based on extensive research and factual documentation, SPK views it as an exceptional case reflecting unique, specific circumstances.

The Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) has been actively engaged since the 1990s in identifying Nazi-confiscated art. It has also conducted extensive scholarly research into the circumstances surrounding the 1935 Guelph Treasure sale. The SPK came to the conclusion that the conditions for restitution to the heirs of the art dealerships owned by Messrs. Goldschmidt, Hackenbroch, Rosenberg and Rosenbaum were not met. SPK maintains that the sale of the Welfenschatz was not a forced sale due to Nazi persecution, even though certain members of the consortium that sold the Guelph Treasure were Jews living in Germany and abroad.

This assessment that the Welfenschatz was not sold due to Nazi persecution reflects the specific circumstances and historical facts of this particular case. It was made with all due sensitivity to moral and historical considerations. In numerous other cases, SPK has decided to restitute works of art or books because provenance research and factual documentation showed that those were Nazi-looted objects.

Reasons for SPK’s Conclusion that the Sale was not Forced

The sale of the Guelph Treasure does not qualify as a forced sale due to Nazi persecution. The following historical facts, which have been verified by source materials, support this determination:

  • The purchase price paid was within the scope of what was usual and achievable on the art market at the time.
  • The sellers received the agreed purchase price.
  • Since 1930, the Guelph Treasure had been located outside Germany, and the German state had no access to it at any time during the sales negotiations.

The Purchase Price Paid was Appropriate

The purchase price of 4.25 million Reichsmarks (RM) for 42 objects was within the scope of what was usual and achievable on the art market at the time. That price also reflects the considerable monetary deflation between 1929 and 1935, following the U.S. stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

The consortium of art dealers acquired the treasure, consisting of 82 pieces, on October 5, 1929 for 7.5 million Reichsmarks, with the intention of re-selling it at a profit. The U.S. stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression occurred three weeks later, frightening potential buyers and depressing the art market. Public institutions in particular were hardly able to consider such a purchase. Despite extensive marketing efforts, including in the United States, the consortium only managed to sell roughly half of the works before 1931.

The remaining 42 works, including the most important works, initially remained unmarketable. After years of the pieces languishing in storage, the Dresdner Bank entered into negotiations with the consortium to purchase the remaining pieces of the Welfenschatz on behalf of an undisclosed buyer, later revealed to be the State of Prussia. The Dresdner Bank offered RM 3.5 million but the consortium offered to sell the treasure for RM 5 million.  After protracted and complicated negotiations in 1934 and 1935, the parties agreed on a final price of RM 4.25 million, exactly midway between their original positions.

The Sellers Received the Agreed Purchase Price

There is documentary evidence that the members of the consortium each received the corresponding proceeds of the sale in the form of cash and rare works of art, and no restrictions were placed on how they could use these proceeds. In particular, in spite of the currency restrictions that were in place, considerable efforts were made on the part of the buyer to ensure that the members of the consortium living outside Germany by 1935 received their share of the purchase price: in an exceptional process, 20 works of art were selected from Berlin’s museums by mutual arrangement between the museums and the consortium as part of the purchase price. The sellers could export these works and sell them abroad without restriction. Examples of the selected works include the painting “Saint Magdalen” by Crivelli, which today belongs to the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), and a French Madonna, which was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1937.

The Guelph Treasure was not under the Control of the German State

The Guelph Treasure was moved out of Germany in 1930, and was in storage in Amsterdam at the time it was purchased by Prussia in June 1935. This means that the German state had no access to it at any time during the sales negotiations.

The Beratende Kommission decides in line with the SPK’s argumentation

In 2012, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the claimants brought the restitution dispute before the Beratende Kommission (Advisory Commission). On March 20, 2014, the Beratende Kommission found no basis for restitution of the Guelph Treasure:

“Although the commission is aware of the difficult fate of the art dealers and of their persecution during the Nazi period, there is no indication in the case under consideration by the Advisory Commission that points to the art dealers and their business partners having been pressured during negotiations, for instance by Göring. […] The Advisory Commission, in accordance with its findings on the course of the purchase negotiations, is of the opinion that the sale of the Welfenschatz was not a compulsory sale due to persecution. It cannot therefore recommend the return of the Welfenschatz to the heirs of the four art dealers and any other previous co-owners.”

Recommendation of the Advisory Commission (“Guelph Treasure”)

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