German commission rules museum must return Nazi-looted painting to Jewish heirs

Panel finds that historian Max Fischer likely lost ‘Siblings,’ by Erich Heckel, due to persecution and that the 1913 work in oil belongs to his family

Screen capture from video of the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe museum, Germany. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe museum, Germany. (YouTube)

BERLIN — A commission in Germany has ruled that a painting by expressionist Erich Heckel that is in a German art museum was likely unlawfully obtained under the Nazis and should be returned to the heirs of a Jewish historian who once owned it, officials said Tuesday.

Heckel’s “Geschwister,” or “Siblings,” was owned by Jewish historian Max Fischer until 1934, the year before he fled Germany to avoid Nazi persecution, according to Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commission on Nazi-looted art.

The 1913 oil painting ended up back with Heckel, and the artist donated it to the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe museum in 1967.

The state commission said it could not be determined when and under which circumstances Heckel came into possession of the piece, sometime between January 1934 and January 1944.

The commission said that given the circumstances, however, it had to be assumed that Fischer, who immigrated to the United States, lost possession of the painting due to Nazi persecution. It ordered the artwork returned to his heirs.

The heirs, who weren’t identified, have said they plan on donating the painting to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the commission said.

Heckel, a founding member of Die Bruecke (The Bridge) group of expressionist artists, died in 1970.

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