Feds Seize Nazi-Looted Art Put Up for Auction in NY

MANHATTAN (CN) –  The United States has brought a forfeiture action to reunite the heirs of a renowned Jewish art collector with a Dutch portrait seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Missing since 1943, the oil painting “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill” by Salomon Koninck was transferred to New York from Chile last year in contemplation of a possible auction.

The United States does not identify the seller or the auction house in its Oct. 19 forfeiture complaint, but it says the consignor admitted “that her father had purchased the … painting for 4.500 Deutsche Mark from Walter Andreas Hofer in Munich in 1952.”

“Walter Andreas Hofer was Hermann Goring’s chief purchasing agent and as such was a key player in the confiscation and looting of Jewish art collections during the Nazi era,” the complaint states. “In 1950, after being tried in absentia by a French military tribunal for his role in art plundering during World War II, Hofer was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. Hofer was never apprehended by the French authorities, and reemerged in the early 1950s as an art dealer in Munich.”

The auction house has estimated that the painting is worth at least $5,000.

In the complaint, Koninck is described as “a contemporary of Rembrandt whose works are now held in the collections of many prominent museums, including the Louvre, the Prado, and the National Gallery of Art. He painted the 26-inch by 20-inch piece at issue in 1639, and the U.S. government says the Nazi agency Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg seized it in 1943 when it looted Chateau de Chambon in Southern France.

The chateau, according to the complaint, was where the heirs of prominent Jewish art collector Adolphe Schloss where hiding what was considered “among the most significant collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings assembled in 19th century France.”

In addition to the piece by Koninck, Schloss’ collection included paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and Ruysdael.

“Due to its value and significance, the ERR made substantial efforts to locate and loot the Schloss Collection,” the complaint states, going on to note that Nazis also arrested two of the four Schloss heirs in 1943.

From the Chambon chateau, according to the complaint, the Koninck was brought with another 261 paintings from the Schloss collection to a depot located at the ERR-operated Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, and finally to the Fuhrerbau, Hitler’s headquarters in Munich.

The United States notes that the ERR meticulously catalogued the works it seized, and that the piece consigned for auction last year is “an identical match to the ERR Catalogue Listing of the Defendant In Rem Painting, including the photograph of it taken by the ERR.”

“We can never reverse history and undo the horrors committed at the hands of the Nazis,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “But we are steadfast in our determination to remember those who suffered and do what we can to return what was taken.”

Last month Berman held a repatriation ceremony for the 1919 Renoir painting “Deux Femmes Dans un Jardin,” which was seized by the Nazis from a Paris bank vault in 1941.

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