A 17th century Dutch Master painting that was looted by the Nazis in 1943 from its Jewish owner will go under the hammer this week at a Vienna auction house after legal proceedings were unable to block the sale.
Auctioneers Im Kinsky listed “Portrait of a Man” by Bartholomeus van der Helst in the catalog for Wednesday’s sale.
The painting was part of a major art collection amassed by Adolphe Schloss, who was Jewish and died in Paris in 1910.
In 1943 as the Nazis ransacked occupied Europe and looted its art collections, they helped themselves to 333 of the works in the collection. Many were recovered after the war; however, 167 paintings, including “Portrait of a Man” vanished after 1945.
Eindrücke der VERNISSAGE zur 117. Kunstauktion im Auktionshaus im Kinsky, vom 19. April 2017!
The auction house says that the small oil painting of an unsmiling, apparently middle-aged man thought to be worth €15,000-30,000 ($16,000-32,000; NIS 60,000-120,000), was acquired in 2004 by its current owner “in good faith.”
The painting, lot number 476, is described by the auction house as an “oil on panel, parqueted, unframed; 65 × 49 cm (oval).”
The listing says that after a legal ruling the current owner has the right to sell the painting. However, the auction house also links to a Dutch database of artwork which describes the provenance of the painting as having been confiscated from Schloss in 1943.
Antoine Comte, a French lawyer representing Schloss’s descendants, told UK’s Guardian newspaper that “we want the painting back, with the admission that it was looted art.”
“We will not accept, as has been suggested, that we buy it back ourselves or share the proceeds of the sale with the owner. Neither do we accept the owner could not have known it was looted. For years it has shown up on every database of stolen assets as well as on the Interpol register.
“As long as we don’t get the painting back that was unlawfully taken from the family, this amounts to an appalling continuation of Nazism and the crimes of Nazism,” Comte said. “The Austrians fall back on their own legal system to say they are in the right, but they don’t give a damn about the moral aspect of this.”
In 2016 the auction house pulled the painting from an auction due to legal action by the family.
The Im Kinsky listing for the current auction states:
“Briefly before the auction, we started negotiations with the representatives of Adolphe Schloss‘ heirs to induce a mutually agreed solution in accordance to the Washington principles. Therefore the painting was withdrawn from our auction.
At the same time a proceeding against the present owner was initiated, which ended soon with the decision that the consignor is the legitimate owner.”