The heirs of Jewish collector Alphonse Kann from whom the Nazis stole hundreds of paintings and works of art during World War Two in Paris have asked two U.S museums to surrender two oils that disappeared from his home at that time, it was learned on October 19th 1999.
Francis Warin, the representative of Alphonse Kann's eleven heirs who has been carrying out long investigations for many years, said that a 1911 painting by Fernand Léger, titled «Fumes over Roofs», was now in the possession of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Warin added that he had asked the museum to surrender this painting, which had been acquired in November 1942 in Drouot by the Louise Leyris Gallery and then sold to the Institute.
He also said that the Menil Foundation in Houston detained a 1907 painting by Matisse, titled “Rivière aux Aloes” which was listed among the works seized by the Nazis from Alphonse Kann. He stressed that such work appeared in a photography taken in the latter's apartment before the war.
There was also a 1913 still life painting by Picasso, “Nature morte au papier Job”, shown on this photography, Francis Warin added. This work had belonged to Swedish choreographer and collector Rolf de Maré before Kann bought it. It reappeared in 1945 in the Rockefeller collection and is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
After the war, during which he had sought refuge in London, Alphonse Kann had signalled the disappearance of many Picasso paintings from his collection. The Head of a Woman recovered by the French State and deposited in the Museum of Rennes, Western France, had been found in the Munich home of German dealer Gustav Rochlitz who had been much active buying modern works seized by the Nazis in Paris.
Another Picasso stolen from Alphonse Kann, titled “Violin and music score” has been found in Tokyo. It now belongs to a Japanese bank while a bronze by Rodin, titled “The Shadow” has been localised in the Museum of Sculpture of Copenhagen.
Francis Warin has also been claiming for the return of Georges Braque major Cubist piece of 1911, “Man with a Guitar”, as well as for three works by Spanish Cubist artist Juan Gris now in the possession of the French National Museum of Modern Art and awaits the decision of a Paris court regarding these works.
Last but not least, Francis Warin has discovered that many pieces of furniture that had belonged to Alphonse Kann had been sold at Drouot during the war and bought by the town hall of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, West of Paris. The office of the mayor has so far declared that it had no knowledge of this purchase despite the existence of documents proving the contrary.
Alphonse Kann, who carried out his college studies with Marcel Proust, who later became quite a famous novelist, had amassed an impressive collection of paintings and works of art in his mansion house situated in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which was plundered in October 1940 by the Nazis and French collaborationists.
After the war, Kann did all he could to recover his collection and managed to get half of his paintings back. Still, he recovered only a few pieces of furniture and none of the archives that would have enabled him to search for the missing works, that is to say at least one hundred paintings.
Kann died in 1948 and Francis Warin went back on the track of the missing works some forty years later, basing his investigations on two inventories drawn up by the Einsatzstab Reichleiters Rosenberg (ERR) responsible for the pillaging of Jewish-owned works of art. These two inventories were however not identical and seemed to suggest that certain works seized from the home of Alphonse Kann had disappeared between Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris where all works seized were stored pending their transfer to Germany.
According to Francis Warin, a certain number of works stolen from Kann were sold on the art market without going through the Nazi circuit. He has based such suggestion on an advertisement in the “Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot” dated October 31st 1942 announcing the sale of some of Kann's belongings at the request of the provisional administration of Jewish-owned property.
Such sale was conducted in Drouot between November 5th and 8th without the assistance of an expert. 29 paintings were thus sold during the three-day sale, including two works by Max Ernst, six by André Masson and two Surrealist oils by Joan Miro while a still life by Picasso and a study by Fernand Léger were sold respectively for US $ 7,500 and $ 4,500 at today's value.
According to a confidential note by Jewish Paris dealer Léonce Rosenberg who remained hidden in the French capital during the war, the Léger's “Fumes over roofs” was among the works sold at Drouot in November 1942. It indicated that Louise Leyris, who was the sister-in-law of Daniel Kahnweiler, a famous dealer of Jewish origin, had bought it.
According to the daily “Le Monde” Alphonse Kann had demanded in 1945 the return of this painting, which he had described as “Roofs seen from Léger's window” while this work was sold by the Louise Leyris Gallery to the Buchholz Gallery of New York before it was acquired by the Minneapolis Institute.
Meanwhile, Martha Nierenberg, a U.S citizen announced on October 5th in New York that she was suing the Hungarian State in order to recover works stolen by the Nazis from the collection of her grand father Baron Mor Lipot Herzog.
Some 250à works of art from this collection had been seized on behalf of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who had planned the mass liquidation of Jews throughout Europe. Many of these were recovered by the Allies after the war and were given back to the Hungarian State. They were in turn deposited in several Hungarian museums and never returned to the family of the Baron after the communists took power in Budapest.
Martha Nierenberg, who settled in the U.S in 1945, has been calling for the return of 10 paintings hanging in the Fine Arts Museum and the National gallery of Hungary, including a piece by Zurbarran, a canvas work by Van Dyck, an oil by Cranach and another by El Greco which belonged to her mother after the Baron had died in 1934.