LONDON (Aug. 1)
The Tate Gallery here is facing a claim for a $300,000 painting made by the children of a Jewish banker shot to death by the Nazis in 1937.
Two brothers and their sister who fled to England from Dusseldorf, Germany, soon after their father’s death say that “View of Hampton Court Palace,” by Dutch master Jan Griffier the Elder, was owned by their father.
This is the first private claim against a British collection for art that was lost during the Nazi era.
The three siblings, who are now in their 70s and have requested anonymity, say the picture was in their home until the Nazis killed their father.
To validate their claim, they have produced negatives of photos their father took of the painting.
The three were able to escape to England on exit visas, but their mother could not afford a visa for herself and she eventually fled to Belgium in 1940.
After the Nazis occupied Brussels, she went into hiding, moving from one safe house to another and surviving on scraps of food that she exchanged for artworks — including the Griffier — that she had managed to take with her.
In 1944, she was betrayed and deported to the concentration camp at Malines in Belgium. She survived the camp and was reunited with her children after World War II. She died in 1968.
The disputed painting is thought to date from 1710 and is believed to have been sold during the war to an art gallery on Avenue Louise in Brussels.
It was in a private collection in southern Germany until 1955 when, according to the Tate, it was bought in good faith at a Cologne auction by English art dealers Roland Browse and Delbanco.
The firm sold it to the Friends of the Tate for $600. It was subsequently presented to the gallery, where it joined the Tate’s permanent collection.
The claimants, who have said the painting can remain at the gallery if they are compensated, have known for some time that the work was at the Tate, but had felt helpless to act on their own.
However, the recent decision to return a Van Gogh from the National Museum in Berlin to the heir of its original owner in Britain emboldened the siblings to take action.
Their claim followed an announcement that the Tate and other British national museums had agreed to research the provenance of all works in their collections whose history between 1933 and 1945 is unclear.
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota described the album of photographs that has been kept by the children as “both a poignant document and one which provides very strong evidence of the family connection.”
He said he hoped to resolve the case within weeks.
“On the face of it,” he said, “the family seem to have a very strong claim, but because this is the first case of its type, we will have to proceed carefully.”
Lord Janner, the chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which initiated the investigation by British galleries and which is handling the Tate claim, thanked the gallery for its “extremely prompt and honorable response” to its request for swift action.
“It is very important that the right thing is done quickly in these cases without the courts being involved,” he said. “The claimants are mostly elderly and frail, and they want things settled as soon as possible.”
In a related development, London’s Courtauld Institute Galleries is facing a claim for a painting by Albrecht Durer. This painting, however, was allegedly looted from a museum in Lvov, Poland, rather than from a private individual.