Heirs of Jewish art dealer sue German state for return of Nazi-looted artwork


(JTA) — The heirs of a German-Jewish art dealer have sued the German state of Bavaria in order to recover eight paintings they said were looted by the Nazis.

Alfred Flechtheim was forced to leave the paintings by Max Beckmann, Juan Gris and Paul Klee when he fled Berlin in May 1933 to escape the Nazis, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York by Michael Hulton of San Francisco and his stepmother Penny, of England, who is the widow of Flechtheim’s nephew and heir Henry Hulton, Reuters reported.

The family members filed the lawsuit for the return of the paintings against Bavaria and the Bavarian State Paintings Collections. Several of the paintings have been on display at the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich.

Hundreds of Flechtheim’s  paintings went missing after the Nazis came to power and took over his gallery in Dusseldorf. He died in London in 1937. In recent years, his heirs have been working to reconstruct his extensive collection.

In 2013, the city of Cologne agreed to return six valuable drawings restituted from the Ludwig Museum. The family agreed to leave the drawings by Karl Hofer, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Ernst Barlach, Aristide Maillol and Wilhelm Morgner on display in the museum. The year before, the Kuntsmuseum in Bonn said it would pay half the market value for the painting “Lighthouse With Rotating Beam” by Paul Adolf Seehaus to Michael Hulton.

According to the lawsuit, some of the eight paintings may have been held at one time  by Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had been hired by the Nazis to buy art for its museums or to sell for profit. More than 1,000 pieces of art, including works looted from Jews and museums during World War II, were discovered in 2012 in the possession of his son Cornelius, a recluse who kept most of the works in his Munich apartment.

Cornelius Gurlitt died in 2014 and left the collection exclusively to the Art Museum Bern Foundation in Switzerland. The museum said it would abide by the younger Gurlitt’s pledge to return all works identified as having been “stolen or robbed” by the Nazis.

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