The Jewish Museum in New York Exhibition - Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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For many Jewish families whose artwork was stolen by the Nazis during World War II, the theft was compounded by murder in concentration camps. For the children and grandchildren of survivors, finding the missing art can be an international decades-long search through archives and across continents, into the archives of museums, galleries and auction houses.

 

Detail from Marc Chagalls Purim painted circa 1916 1917. Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia

Detail from Marc Chagall's Purim - Painted Circa 1916-1917 - Philadelphia Museum of Art 

 

Others — like Marc Chagall’s “Purim,” a study for a commissioned St. Petersburg mural he never painted — were confiscated, labeled “degenerate” for their Jewish authors and content. But that didn’t stop the Nazis from selling them to fund the war effort. The exhibit calls out these financial incentives that spurred the Nazis to steal from Jewish collectors: It was as much about seizing Jewish wealth as about any ideological beliefs. Germany was in debt when the Nazis came to power, and even “degenerate” art was often sold on the international market “to raise funds for the Nazi war machine” if they thought it would fetch a good price. So the Nazis weren’t even principled in their anti-Jewishness; they were happy to profit off of works by Jewish artists and were often motivated by simple greed.  “Purim,” painted in 1916-17, contains “folkloric imagery and vivid colors draw from Chagall’s memories of his childhood in a Jewish enclave in the Russian empire.” Seeing a depiction of a holiday that celebrates Jews surviving persecution in this World War II context is poignant.

 

Looted artworks in storage at the Central Collecting Point Munich circa 1945 1949. Johannes Felbermeyer Getty Research Institute Los Angeles 

 

The New York Jewish Museum's exhibition traces the fascinating timelines of individual objects as they passed through hands and sites before, during, and after World War II, bringing forward their myriad stories. During World War II, untold numbers of artworks and pieces of cultural property were stolen by Nazi forces. After the war, an estimated one million artworks and 2.5 million books were recovered. Many more were destroyed.

 

Max Pechstein Landscape Nudes in a Landscape1912 oil on canvas. Image provided by CNACMNAM Dist. RMN Grand Palais Art Resource New York. Photo by Philippe Migeat. 1

Max Pechstein "Nudes in a Landscape" 1912 - Oil on Canvas

 

This exhibition chronicles the layered stories of the objects that survived, exploring the circumstances of their theft, their post-war rescue, and their afterlives in museums and private collections.

 

Materials recovered by Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc. in storage at the Jewish Museum circa 1949. Archives of the Jewish Museum New York

 

Afterlives includes objects looted from Jewish collections during the war, including works by such renowned artists as Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Courbet, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Camille Pissarro. The Jewish Museum has also commissioned four contemporary artists to create new works that address the resonance of the exhibition’s themes: Maria Eichhorn, Hadar Gad, Dor Guez, and Lisa Oppenheim.

 

Tiered seder plate from the 18th 19th century. Gift of the Danzig Jewish Community to The Jewish Museum NYC 1

 Tiered Seder Plate from the 18th/19th Century

Gift of the Danzig Jewish Community to The Jewish Museum NYC 

 

Silver Torah finials from the 18th century. Jewish Cultural Reconstruction. The Jewish Museum NYC 1

Silver Torah Finials from the 18th Century

 Jewish Cultural Reconstruction - The Jewish Museum NYC 

 

Treasured pieces of Judaica, including rare examples of Jewish ceremonial objects from destroyed synagogues, will also be on view, as well as rarely seen archival photographs and documents that connect the objects to history.

 

Included in the Afterlives exhibition is Franz Marcs The Large Blue Horses 1911. Photo The Jewish Museum 2

Included in the Afterlives exhibition is Franz Marcs The Large Blue Horses 1911 

 

The exhibition showcases 53 works of art that were stolen from Jewish art collections by Nazi forces before and during World War II. The paintings and drawings that will be on display in the exhibit — titled “Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art” — include works by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Franz Marc, Paul Cézanne, Pierre Bonnard, Gustave Courbet and Paul Klee. The exhibit also includes items stolen from French Jewish art collector and philanthropist David David-Weill, who had more than 2,000 artworks seized by the Nazis.

 

Henri Matisse Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar 1939 oil on canvas 1

Henri Matisse, Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar, 1939, oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Brooks McCormick Estate, 2007.290. © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; image provided by The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, New York

 

Henri Matisse Daisies 1 2

Henri Matisse "Daisies"  1939

 

Two famous Matisse works included in the show, “Daisies” and “Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar,” are from 1939, and once belonged to French Jewish gallerist Paul Rosenberg. They were stolen from a bank vault in Bordeaux, France, where Rosenberg had stored them for safekeeping before he fled to the US. The latter artwork remained in Nazi commander Hermann Goering’s personal collection of looted art until the end of the war, when it was recovered by Allies forces and returned to Rosenberg.

 

Felbermeyer movement of repatriated art Press Image 3000px W 300dpi e1629367690486 1024x640

Felbermeyer Movement of Repatriated Art

 

After the war, an estimated one million stolen artworks and 2.5 million stolen books were recovered, while many more were destroyed, according to the museum. The exhibition “chronicles the layered stories of the objects that survived, exploring the circumstances of their theft, their post-war rescue, and their afterlives in museums and private collections ... [It] follows the paths taken by works of art across national borders, through military depots, and in and out of networks of collectors, looters, ideologues, and restitution organizations.” 

 

Paul Cezanne Bather and rocks

Paul Cezanne -  "Bather and Rocks" circa 1860-1866

 

One of the most striking instances of bravery the exhibit recounts is that of Rose Valland, a curator at the Jeu de Paume, which housed the work of the Impressionists. During the collaborationist Vichy regime, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, took over the museum building. The ERR, “one of the largest Nazi art-looting task forces operating throughout occupied Europe,” used the space to store masterpieces it had taken.

 

Edith Standen and Rose Valland at the Central Collecting Point in Wiesbaden Germany.jepg

Edith Standen and Rose Valland at the Central Collecting Point in Wiesbaden, Germany

 

Valland, who had worked at the Jeu de Paume before the war, stayed on during the Occupation and collaborated with the French Resistance to track what the Nazis did with the stolen paintings. “At great personal risk,” including sneaking into the Nazi office at night to photograph important documents, “she recorded incoming and outgoing shipments and made detailed maps of the extensive network of Nazi transportation and storage facilities.” Pieces by Jewish or modernist artists were often labeled “degenerate” and slated for destruction. Valland was unable to save many of them, and referred to the room where they were housed as the “Room of the Martyrs.”

 

Kurt Schwitters Opened by Customs 1937 8 collage. Tate London. 1

Kurt Schwitters Opened by Customs 1937-8 Collage - Tate London

 

Spice Container Germany c. 1550 repairs and additions 165051 silver traced pierced cast and parcel gilt. Jewish Cultural Reconstruction. 1

 

Afterlives” additionally features 80 Jewish ceremonial objects, such as candelabrums and a Passover seder plate — many from destroyed and looted synagogues.

 

“Afterlives” also features art by Jews who faced persecution directly — pieces made at the camps themselves or while in hiding. The haunting, delicate drawings of Jacob Barosin, who made them while fleeing to France and ultimately to the U.S., were moving. And the presence of “Battle on a Bridge,” a looted painting so revered by the Nazis that Hitler had earmarked it for his future personal Fuhrermuseum in Austria, was chilling. Its inventory number, 2207, is still visible on the back of the canvas.

 

The room of the Martyrs

The Room of the Martyrs - In the Archives du Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangère – La Courneuve 

 

But what was most captivating about the exhibit was how it helps the visitor imagine what Jewish cultural life was like before the Nazis came to power. I often have the impression that accounts of the Holocaust concentrate more on the horrors of the camps and less and on the individual lives and communities they destroyed. Here, I learned about Jewish gallerist Paul Rosenberg, whose impressive gallery the Nazis co-opted — after seizing his valuable art, of course — for the “Institute of the Study on the Jewish Question,” an antisemitic propaganda machine. I learned about his son Alexander, who, while liberating a train with the Free French Forces thought to be full of passengers, recovered some of his father’s art against all odds. I saw August Sander’s “Persecuted Jews” portrait series from late-’30s Germany, and looked into the faces of people forced to leave their homes. And I saw a huge collection of orphaned Judaica and ritual objects from Danzig (now Gdansk), Poland, where the Jewish community shipped two tons of their treasures to New York for safekeeping in 1939. If no safe free Jews remained in Danzig 15 years later, these items would be entrusted to the museum. None did.

18th century Torah crown from Nuremberg Germany. Photographer John Parnell Photo The Jewish Museum New York

 

75 years after the Second World War, Afterlives explores how surviving artworks and other precious objects were changed by those events, and how they have moved through time, bearing witness to profound historical ruptures while also acting as enduring carriers of individual expression, knowledge, and creativity. The exhibition follows the paths taken by works of art across national borders, through military depots, and in and out of networks of collectors, looters, ideologues, and restitution organizations. “Afterlives” also features art by Jews who faced persecution directly — pieces made at the camps themselves or while in hiding. The haunting, delicate drawings of Jacob Barosin, who made them while fleeing to France and ultimately to the U.S., were moving. And the presence of “Battle on a Bridge,” a looted painting so revered by the Nazis that Hitler had earmarked it for his future personal Fuhrermuseum in Austria, was chilling. Its inventory number, 2207, is still visible on the back of the canvas.

 

Dor Guez Letters from the Greater Maghreb and Belly of the Boat and collages by Lisa Oppenheim. Installation view by Steven Paneccasio.jepg

Dor Guez - “Letters from the Greater Maghreb” and “Belly of the Boat”, and Collages by Lisa Oppenheim

 

But what was most captivating about the exhibit was how it helps the visitor imagine what Jewish cultural life was like before the Nazis came to power. I often have the impression that accounts of the Holocaust concentrate more on the horrors of the camps and less and on the individual lives and communities they destroyed. Here, I learned about Jewish gallerist Paul Rosenberg, whose impressive gallery the Nazis co-opted — after seizing his valuable art, of course — for the “Institute of the Study on the Jewish Question,” an antisemitic propaganda machine. I learned about his son Alexander, who, while liberating a train with the Free French Forces thought to be full of passengers, recovered some of his father’s art against all odds. I saw August Sander’s “Persecuted Jews” portrait series from late-’30s Germany, and looked into the faces of people forced to leave their homes. And I saw a huge collection of orphaned Judaica and ritual objects from Danzig (now Gdansk), Poland, where the Jewish community shipped two tons of their treasures to New York for safekeeping in 1939. If no safe free Jews remained in Danzig 15 years later, these items would be entrusted to the museum. None did.

 

Screen Shot 2021 09 06 at 5.16.53 PM

 

The exhibit also includes the work of four contemporary artists grappling with the contents of “Afterlives” and the era it evokes. Maria Eichhorn pulls from the art restitution work of Hannah Arendt. Hadar Gad uses her painstaking process to paint the disassembly of Danzig’s Great Synagogue. Lisa Oppenheim collages the only existing archival photograph of a lost still-life painting with Google Maps images of the clouds above the house where its Jewish owners lived. And Dor Guez, a Palestinian North African artist from Israel, created an installation from objects belonging to his paternal grandparents, who escaped concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Tunisia. They previously ran a theater company, and a manuscript written by his grandfather in his Tunisian Judeo-Arabic dialect was damaged in transit. Guez blew up the unfamiliar handwriting and ink blots into abstracted prints that hang on the wall. In Guez’s words, “the words are engulfed in abstract spots, and these become a metaphor for the harmonious conjunction between two Semitic languages, between one mother tongue and another, and between homeland and a new country.”

 

Jewish Museum chief curator Darsie Alexander Photo by Margaret Fox and Lerman Neubauer assistant curator Sam Sackeroff. Courtesy

 

Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art is organized by Darsie Alexander, Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator, and Sam Sackeroff, Lerman-Neubauer Assistant Curator, The Jewish Museum. The exhibition is designed by Daniel Kershaw with graphic design by IN-FO.CO, Adam Michaels. Abigail Rapoport, Curator of Judaica, assisted in selecting ceremonial objects for the exhibition.

 

 

Rediscovering looted or supposedly lost art objects is one of the key objectives why Arthur Brand often goes undercover, endangering himself. As an art historian Arthur will be talking about his recent adventure in discovering lost Nazi art including the works that were ordered by and made for Hitler himself. For him, the most important thing is not punishing the people that do this but getting the art back. Arthur Brand is a specialist dealing with the art and antiquities trade. His company tracks down looted art and investigates forgeries. He is an expert about the shady side of the art business where even terrorists earn their money by selling looted art.