Thursday, January 25, 2007

Courtauld Institute of Art returns looted art to Nazi victims

Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent
Two Old masters go to owner's heirs
Third remains as a 'sign of friendship',,3-2564352,00.html

The Courtauld Institute of Art is to lose two Old Master drawings from its collection after an independent committee ruled that the Gestapo seized them during the Second World War.They will be returned to the heirs of Arthur Feldmann, a prominent Czech lawyer whose home in Brno was occupied in 1939 within hours of the German invasion.

Dr Feldmann was tortured to death in 1941 and his wife was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died.

A third drawing, pictured right, was identified as looted, but Dr Feldmann’s heirs want it to remain at the Courtauld as “a symbol of friendship.”

The decision came after the publication yesterday of a report by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, set up by the Government in 2000 to help to resolve claims over art lost during the Nazi era.

The panel ruled that Dr Feldmann was deprived of them in a “gross act of spoliation by the Gestapo, furnishing an unassailable moral strength to this claim by his heirs”.

The drawings, valued at up to £12,000, are an architectural capriccio attributed to Giuseppe Bibiena (1696-1756), a lion attributed to Carl Ruthart (1630-c 1703) and a dog attributed to Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681).

They form part of the bequest by Sir Robert Witt of more than 3,000 Old Master drawings that was made to the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1952. He bought them from the dealer Colnaghi, which acquired them at a Sotheby’s sale in 1946. The Courtauld did not contest the claim, which it received almost a year ago.

Stepanka Horakova, Dr Feldmann’s housekeeper, testified that she was present on March 15, 1939, when the Gestapo forced Dr Feldmann and his wife out of their villa with only a suitcase, leaving behind the entire collection of about 750 Old Master drawings.

Dr Feldmann’s heirs confirmed that they wished the drawing attributed to Van Mieris to remain in the public domain. Deborah Swallow, the director of the Courtauld, said: “We are delighted by this act of generosity and are very pleased to have worked so amicably with the heirs of Dr Feldmann in resolving the claim.

“There was overwhelming evidence that the drawings were illegally taken from Dr Arthur Feldmann, and the Courtauld supported his descendants’ claim to these works. The drawing attributed to Van Mieris will shortly go on display in our prints and drawings room and we will acknowledge its history fully in our records and publications.”