Many modern works were thus exchanged between the Nazis and several French or even German dealers.
Le Monde noted that the first exchange took place in Paris on March 3rd 1941 when Gustav Rochlitz, a German
dealer established in the French capital in 1933, bartered eleven modern paintings against a portrait of a bearded man assumed to be by Titian and which Goering dearly wanted.
Several similar exchanges followed, especially on February 9th 1942 when Rochlitz gave a 15th Century Adoration of the Magi by the Master of Frankfurt against seven modern works including the Braque Guitar Player and the Yellow Curtain by Matisse, which both came from the Kann Collection.
After Germany's defeat, Rochlitz was interrogated by Allied investigators about his activities and admitted he had sold the Braque painting to Parisian dealer Paul Pétridès who was in turn investigated by French justice officials.
Pétridès managed to be cleared off of accusations of being a collaboationist and was allowed to pursue his activity until he faced trouble again in the 1960's when he bought a dozen paintings stolen from the collection of the owner of the
« Banania » cocoa firm.
Allied investigators apparently did not press Pétridès much about the fate of the Braque painting which he had presumably sold to Lefèvre who should have thus known that it belonged to a Jewish-owned collection. However, according to documents from the archives of the Paris Modern Art museum Lefèvre bought the Guitar player from a Zurich dealer named Marcel Fleischmann. These recently discovered documents somewhat proved that the Braque painting was effectively stolen from the Kann collection and sold on the art market in 1942. Alphonse Kann, who died in 1948 was surely never informed about the whereabouts of the Guitar Player before it was exhibited in Friburg.
As all transactions effected during the war are considered as void by the French government, the Braque painting should thus be returned to Kann's heirs.
However, the work is of such importance that the officials of the Pompidou Museum will surely try to reach an agreement with Francis Warin so as to be able to keep it at least as a loan. Nevertheless, Warin has already managed to recover an important 1911 Cubist landscape by Albert Gleizes belonging to Alphonse Kann which had been on exhibition in the Pompidou Museum and intends to get the Braque painting back by all means.
«We still have to recover some 50 lost works and the Braque painting is of great importance to us,» he told Artcult adding that the Museum also held other paintings from the Kann collection.
Among all Jewish dealers who had to flee from France or were arrested by the Germans during the war, only one, Georges Wildenstein, apparently managed to save the bulk of his collection thanks to his representative in Paris, an «Aryan» who protected his interests between 1940 and 1945. Strangely enough, Warin has been trying to recover eight major medieval manuscripts stolen from the Kann collection and eventually bought by Wildenstein himself.
« This is a tricky situation since it was a Jewish dealer who bought those manuscripts stolen by the Nazis and we have no intention of giving up our claim as reported in the New York Times a few months ago », he added pinpointing that out of the eight manuscripts one was worth over US $ 10 million alone.
The value of the Braque painting could well exceed US $ 50 million and the French State would certainly not be in a
position to meet such amount of money to acquire it.
French museum officials said they had adopted a clear position about all the paintings and works of art which had remained unclaimed after the war.
They stressed that they had met all new demands concerning the return of works when their ownership had been established since the museums were only acting as trustees.
Works believed to have belonged to Jewish collectors which have remained unclaimed will soon be deposited at the
Art and History Museum of Judaism due to open in Paris later this year.
However, Museum officials noted that the Guitar Player was not part of the works recovered after the war and that it had been bought legally in 1981 from Mr Berggruen who himself had acquired it in a 1965 auction sale.
They added that that Francis Warin's claim had to be carefully examined before a decision could be reached about
the Guitar Player.
Intensive researches are to be made concerning the 1940-1948 period to determine the fate of the Braque painting at that time but for Francis Warin French authorities are not in a position to challenge the evidence that the painting was stolen during the war.
If the Guitar Player had to be returned to the heirs of Alphonse Kann, the Pompidou Museum would then have to activate the Ministry of Culture in order to transfer a work considered as a property of the State.
Finally, Museum officials would certainly approach Francis Warin to induce him and the other heirs to accept to have the Guitar Player, considered as a major and essential 20th Century work, to be kept on permanent loan at the Pompidou Museum. They added it was inconceivable that such work should no longer be seen by the public.
Still, Francis Warin does not seem ready to surrender his claim though he knows well that if he recovered the painting the State would not allow it to be exported in case it was sold at auction or by an art dealer.
Museum officials regretted that the question of works of art stolen during the war had not been raised when they bought the painting but recalled that such an issue was not in anyone's mind at that time. It was only two years ago when an exhibition of works recovered from the Nazis was under preparation that photos of the paintings stored at the Musée du jeu du Paume by the Nazis were carefully studied and enlarged that it was discovered that the Guitar Player was among those seized by the ERR.