Just and Fair

21.11.2018Just and Fair

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz has restituted more than 350 works of art in the past 20 years. A selection

By Ralf Hanselle

Late medieval alabaster relief
Late medieval alabaster relief © Christoph Mack

Alabaster relief from the Fuld Collection

The late medieval alabaster relief comes from the art collection that Harry Fuld jun. inherited in 1932 along with shares in the family business. He soon lost the business shares due to “aryanization.” After putting his art collection in storage, Fuld fled to England in 1936. The collection was confiscated and in 1943, the works were auctioned off. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) acquired the relief in the auction. In 2009, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, SPK) returned it to Fuld’s heir, Magen David Adom UK (MDAUK). Thanks to both the heir’s willingness to negotiate and the financial support of Siemens Kunststiftung, the relief can be exhibited in the Bode Museum as a permanent loan.

The Watzmann

Caspar David Friedrich’s knowledge of the Alps was hearsay. He painted Der Watzmann (The Watzmann) in 1824/1825 based on a watercolor study by his student, Johann August Heinrich. In 1937, the large-scale painting was sold by a Jewish collector to the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery). He used the money to finance his family’s escape to the USA. In 2002, SPK restituted the painting but thanks to the heirs’ goodwill and private support by others, it continues to be on exhibit in the Alte Nationalgalerie: DekaBank purchased the painting and loaned it permanently to the museum.

Caspar David Friedrich, „The Watzmann“
Caspar David Friedrich, „The Watzmann“ © Christoph Mack
Books from the Teutonia zur Weisheit Freemason’s lodge
Books from the Teutonia zur Weisheit Freemason’s lodge © Christoph Mack

Books from a Freemason's lodge

The Teutonia zur Weisheit Freemason’s lodge in Potsdam once housed one of the largest Freemason libraries in Germany. It had more than 2,000 books. But starting in 1934, NS government forced the lodge to gradually reduce its activities. Immediately after its liquidation in 1935, the liquidator donated the lodge’s literature to the Preußische Staatsbibliothek library. While systematically searching its collection for NS plunder, the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) discovered that it had more than 384 volumes from the lodge’s former library. In 2016, SPK restituted the books to the lodge, which was re-established in 1991.

The Margarete Oppenheim Collection

Margarete Oppenheim owned one of the largest art collections in Germany. It included many decorative art objects, like the salt cellar pictured here. In 1935, Mrs. Oppenheim’s heirs auctioned off her collection. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin helped to prepare for the auction free of charge. It is not clear if the heirs, who were Jewish, could have picked a better time for the auction if there had been no NS government and if they had control of the proceeds. With that in mind, a settlement was worked out in which some objects remained in the Kunstgewerbemuseum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, while others were restituted.

Silver salt cellar
Silver salt cellar © Christoph Mack

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

The SPK collections are lucky to have more than one work by E. L. Kirchner, including Frauen am Potsdamer Platz (Women on the Potsdamer Platz, 1914) from the Glaser Collection and the etching illustrating the front cover, Fehmarnhäuser mit großem Baum (Fehmarn Houses with Large Tree, 1908), from the Eugen Moritz Buchthal Collection. Buchthal and his family were among the Jews persecuted by the National Socialists and they emigrated to London. In 1936, Buchthal delivered many of the works by Kirchner in his collection to Nierendorf Gallery in Berlin. The Kupferstichkabinett purchased some of those works from the gallery but returned them to Buchthal’s heirs in 2017. SPK bought Fehmarn Häuser back for the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, „Fehmarn Houses with Large Tree“ (1908)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, „Fehmarn Houses with Large Tree“ (1908) © Christoph Mack
Edvard Munch, „Girl on the Beach“
Edvard Munch, „Girl on the Beach“ © Christoph Mack

The Curt Glaser Collection

The former director of the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library), Professor Curt Glaser, was forced to retire in 1933 because of his Jewish ancestry and emigrated shortly thereafter. He had most of his art collection auctioned off in 1933 but could take some works of art with him. He donated others to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In recognition of Glaser’s persecution and to honor his outstanding service to Berlin’s museums, his heirs and SPK agreed in 2012 to a “just and fair solution” according to the Washington Principles. Some works, including Munch’s Girl on the Beach, were restituted. Others (for example, the Kirchner mentioned above) remained in the Foundation’s ownership with the heir’s consent.

The Max Silberberg Collection

In August 1999, SPK restituted Selbstbildnis mit gelbem Hut (Self-portrait with Yellow Hat, 1874) by Hans von Marées and Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, the drawing by Vincent van Gogh, to the heirs of Max Silberberg, who was murdered in Theresienstadt concentration camp. It was SPK’s first restitution of cultural property that had been taken away in the context of NS persecution. The research was carried out based on a tip provided by the Jewish Claims Conference. The works were auctioned off in 1935 by Graupe Auction House and acquired for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. SPK was able to re-acquire the Marées painting for the Alte Nationalgalerie from the heirs in 2002.

Hans von Marées, „Self-portrait with Yellow Hat“ (1874)
Hans von Marées, „Self-portrait with Yellow Hat“ (1874) © Christoph Mack

Related News

More Articles of this Dossier