Secret of the stolen paint – Art ‘sleuth’ solves missing story of Nazi plundered Rubens
This is estimated that over 100,000 works of art are still missing as a result of Nazi activities during WWII. This means that there is a lot of work for Anke Kausch, an art historian specializing in the area of provenance of art. His detective work allows him to trace the history of works of art, looking for questionable documents or other red flags in the archives of the National Gallery of Canada (MBC).
Nobody knew that Stormy landscape by famous Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, currently in the NGC’s European Gallery, was one of those missing works. It wasn’t until a photograph in a catalog caught Kausch’s attention.
“I was looking at a catalog of notes, which secretly recorded details of the Nazi looting of French national and private art belonging to Jews in France during the war, and I came across this faded image of our Rubens. I asked myself: what is it doing here? Why would this to be in here?
“There was a ‘red flag name’ involved with the Rubens. This means that there was either the name of a collector who was Jewish and whose collection was looted, or the name of an art dealer who was a collaborator. In this case, it was the name of a very passionate [Jewish] collector from Paris called Adolphe Schloss.
“The Rubens was a gift to the Michal and Renata Hornstein Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. They bought it in the 1980s from an English art dealer, and we knew it was part of a sale by the Schloss heirs in 1951 after the war, so there didn’t seem to be any discrepancy of origin.
And yet it was there, in an art catalog looted by the Nazis.
Kausch began researching at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Their microfilms contained interviews between Nazi collaborators involved in the art trade and The Monuments Men, an international team of curators, art historians and archivists formed during World War II to coordinate the restitution of ‘stolen works of art. While researching the forced sales of the Schloss collection, she came across an interview with a man named Cornelius Postma, who was involved in the panel of experts appointed by the Vichy government that examined the looted works of art recovered after the war. Thanks to him, she found out where the Nazis had taken her.
“In 1939, at the start of the war, the heirs of the Schloss put the entire collection – the 333 paintings – in a castle outside of Paris for greater security. This castle was discovered and then looted by the Nazis. Almost all of the paintings were transported to Linz, Hitler’s hometown, where he planned to build a huge museum complex to house “world-class art” according to Nazi taste.
But not all of the paintings went to Linz. Stormy landscape was one of some 25 who “disappeared” for the personal enrichment of two men – including Postma, who ended up with the Reuns.
“In the end, Postma sold it for 60,000 reichsmarks, a lot of money at the time, to Mr. Rademacher, an official at the German museum, who was shopping in Paris. Rademacher took him to Bonn, where he joined the collection of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum.
“These days the Rheinisches Landesmuseum has a full-time provenance researcher on staff, so I wrote to him. She was very interested to hear about this photograph of our Rubens. She quickly responded, enthusiastically reporting that while digging through the museum’s archives, she had found the corresponding old inventory card dated June 27, 1944. We thought she had no history of war; it was the confirmation of his hidden biography.
“After that, it gets more complicated because of the heavy Allied bombing of the city of Bonn. Museum workers took the collection to the countryside for added security, to the Cistercian Abbey of Marienstatt in western Germany. After the war, Marienstatt became part of the French occupied zone and all works of art in Marientstatt were confiscated by French troops.
A note found at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum proved that the painting was eventually transported from the abbey to a French-occupied German town near the French border in 1945.
“In 1951, Stormy landscape appears in a Schloss family sale. What we assume happened between 1945 and 1951 is that the French returned the painting to the Schloss family. Since then we know the painting was in Britain until it was purchased by the Hornsteins, who gave it to us.
The story ends there for the gallery, as there is no previous owner who can claim the painting. For Kausch, it was an enriching and fascinating experience. “I am German and I love to help set the record straight,” says Kausch.