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Norway museum returning Nazi-looted Matisse painting to heirs

(JTA) — A Norway musuem said it would return a Nazi-looted painting by Henri Matisse to the heirs of its former Jewish owner.

The Henie Onstad Art Center near Oslo, or HOK, announced Friday that it would return the 1937 painting “Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace,” which has been part of the museum’s collection since the HOK was established in 1961 by shipping magnate Niels Onstad and his wife, Olympic figure-skating champion Sonja Henie. Onstad acquired the artwork from Galerie Henri Benezit in Paris around 1950.

The painting is worth about $40 million, according to reports.

“Although it is HOK’s unwavering position that both Niels Onstad, and subsequently HOK, acquired the painting in good faith, HOK has chosen to adhere to international conventions and return the painting to Rosenberg’s heirs,” the museum said in a statement.

In June 2012, the heirs of the late art dealer Paul Rosenberg contacted the museum, which the statement said led to an “extensive investigation” to determine the artwork’s provenance. Norwegian law would have allowed the museum to keep the portrait.

The painting, which has been a centerpiece of the museum’s collection, was removed from display after the claim was made.

Rosenberg fled the Nazis to New York with his family in 1940. The Nazis confiscated 162 pieces of artwork he owned on Sept. 5. 1941, according to the museum.

Prior to including the painting in the museum’s collection, Onstad requested detailed provenance information but did not discover the Rosenberg claim, according to the museum.

It was the first case of Nazi-looted art discovered in Norway, the museum said in its statement, acknowledging that its decision will have an impact on other Norwegian institutions. The museum has called for the formation of a national committee to examine public collections for Nazi-looted art.

 

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