The heirs of a Jewish collector whose collection was seized by the Nazis during the Second World War have been calling for the return of a major work by Georges Braque now owned by the Georges Pompidou Modern Art museum in Paris.
The heirs of Alphonse Kann, a well-known Vienna-born collector, have been active during the past two years in their attempts to trace back dozens of works which were stolen from him during the war.
After founding an association presided over by Francis Warin, Kann's grand-nephew, they have already located several works scattered in France and around the world, notably in the U.S.
After recovering an important 1911 painting by Albert Gleizes which had been bought by the Pompidou Museum.They now, are claiming the return of Braque's Guitar Player, a major Cubist work on canvas. The Guitar Player, painted in 1914 and measuring 130 x 73 cm, has been on permanent exhibition at the Pompidou Museum since 1981.
Born into a rich family in Vienna in 1870, Alphonse Kann went to Paris around 1880 and studied at the lycée Condorcet with Marcel Proust who was to become one of France most celebrated novelists.
A GREAT COLLECTOR
Kann rapidly collected Impressionist works by Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir and Van Gogh and turned to modern art in 1920. He then acquired masterpieces by Matisse, Juan Gris, Klee, La Fresnaye, Picasso, Fernand Léger and Braque. When the Germans invaded France, Kann fled to London and his prestigious collection was seized by the Nazis.
Several works of art and paintings impounded by the Germans were returned to him between 1945 and 1948, the year of his death, but there was no immediate trace of other important pieces missing from the collection.
Braque's Guitar Player, a masterpiece in the history of Cubism, is now the object of a severe and breath-taking battle between the heirs of Alphonse Kann and the museum. Braque was certainly at his peak when he painted this monumental piece mixing sawdust to oil painting on the canvas on which were defined geometrical planes and lines as well as signs with a human figure and a guitar.
The painting was then bought by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the dealer who had banked on most great artists of the time, notably Picasso, Léger or Derain. However, in August 1914, when war was declared, all Kahnweiler's belongings were sequestrated by French authorities because of his German nationality. Kahnweiler, who was however known to be pro-French, had sought refuge in Switzerland to avoid being drafted in the German army.
In June 1921, Kahnweiler's paintings were sold at auction on order from the French government despite many protests made by the dealer, who had returned to Paris, and his friends. Braque himself attended the auction which took place in a hainous atmosphere against the Cubists following a violent campaign staged by the press and the artist punched the face of Leonce Rosenberg, who had been designated as expert for this auction. The Guitar player was bought 2800 francs inclusive of premium (US $ 2350 of today) by a certain Grassat, in fact an assumed name used by Kahnweiler, his brother Gustav and Berlin dealer Flechtheim to act as bidders during that sale.
The newspaper le Monde which published a lengthy article about the present dispute added that Kahnweiler kept the painting until December 1924 and sold it 6900 FF (some US $ 6,000 of today) to Alphonse Kann who had already acquired several Cubist masterpieces to form his collection.