Israel Museum (briefly) returns painting seized by Nazis

Israel Museum (briefly) returns painting seized by Nazis

1923 Impressionist work by Max Liebermann restored to the Jewish family that owned it before WWII, then repurchased by the museum

The Israel Museum returned an important Impressionist painting to a descendant of the German-Jewish family that owned it before the Nazis seized it during World War II, the museum announced Tuesday.

The museum then immediately repurchased the painting, which will remain part of its collection and stay in Jerusalem.

The 1923 work “Garden in Wannsee,” by artist Max Liebermann, reached Israel in 1950, after it was collected along with other pieces of looted and unclaimed art in Europe after the war.

Artwork whose owners could not be located had been given to a group known as the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, and some of that art was later sent to Israel.

In 2008, the Israel Museum included the painting in an exhibit called Orphaned Art, which consisted of pieces collected by JRSO.

Max Liebermann's "Garden in Wannsee," 1923 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Max Liebermann’s “Garden in Wannsee,” 1923 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

The painting was seized in 1941 by a Nazi agency. It had belonged to Max Cassirer, a Berlin businessman from a family of art dealers, who fled to Switzerland in 1939.

Cassirer’s heir identified the painting in 2012, with assistance from an art historian and a Berlin law firm, thanks to a photograph that showed it hanging in Cassirer’s home before the war. The museum restored ownership to the family and then bought it back for an undisclosed sum, an announcement by the museum said.

The museum has returned other pieces to pre-war owners, including three Roman medallions of glass and gold to the family of a Polish countess, and paintings by Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.

Experts say between 250,000 and 600,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis were never claimed and remain in the possession of museums, governments and private collectors worldwide.


Photo credit: Max Liebermann, Garden in Wannsee, 1923. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, received from JRSO through the Jewish Agency, Germany, 1950. Formerly from the collection of Max Cassirer, Berlin, and reacquired from the designated heir of the original owner in 2013. Purchase made possible through the bequests of: Grégoire Tarnopol and Alexander Tarnopol, New York; Myriam Karnon, Tel Aviv; and Clara Kelen, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum.

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