The Art Newspaper
June 3, 2004
Nazi loot claims: a French museum is trying to raise money to buy a
Canaletto for the second time
Settlement, not litigation, is the way forward
By Martha Lufkin
The Musée des Beaux-Arts of Strasbourg is seeking funds to compensate
heirs of the Jewish owner of a Canaletto painting in its collection which
was recently identified as having been looted by the Nazis in Vienna after
Austrian annexation in 1938.
The painting, on copper, is just one of four Canaletto paintings that Nazis
stole from Bernhard Altmann, a Viennese cashmere sweater manufacturer, when
they confiscated his entire estate in 1938 after he had fled to London. The
museum, which is owned by the city, agreed to the principle of restitution
after confirming that the painting had been looted, but is seeking to keep
the work, Corinne Hershkovitch, attorney for the city of Strasbourg, told
The Art Newspaper.
ìThe case was clear. The city wanted to face it properly,î she said.
case is proceeding as a settlement negotiation, not a lawsuit, she said.
Lacking immediate funds to buy the Canaletto from the Altmann heirs, the
city requested a period of a year and a half in which to raise funds for the
purchase. The heirs agreed. New regulations in France promoting patronage
may be helpful in achieving the desired subscription, Ms Hershkovitch said.
The settlement is not yet final. While the price to be paid to the heirs has
not been firmly agreed on, it is expected to be roughly the current value of
the painting reduced by the purchase price paid by the museum in 1987, said
E. Randol Schoenberg, lead attorney in the US for the heirs. If the city is
unable to raise the money, it has agreed to return the painting to the
The painting, a view of La Salute in Venice, was bought by the museum
1987 for FFr3.5 million (then $588,000) from two collectors, Othon Kaufmann
and François Schlageter. They had fled Germany, joined the British army, and
eventually became patrons of the Strasbourg museum, donating art from their
collection to it and to the Louvre. They had bought the Canaletto in 1949
from Hermann Voss, the former head of the Wiesbaden Museum whom Hitler
appointed in 1943 to direct the collection he was amassing for his grand
museum of art, to be built in Linz and to contain loot from Nazi-controlled
The Strasbourg Canaletto appears in the catalogue of the Nazi sale of
Altmannís entire estate by Dorotheum, the Viennese auction house, on 17-22
June and 19-21 July, 1938. The statement in the catalogue, that the June
sale was to take place at Altmannís residence at ìKopfgasse 1î, Vienna,
confirmed the paintingís provenance to the museum. Three other Canaletto
paintings taken from Bernhard Altmann, which were included in the sale, are
still missing. The Strasbourg Canaletto is one of only nine works painted by
the artist on copper.
In 2000, in a previous Nazi loot claim in which spoliation ìwas not
obvious,î Ms Hershkovitch said, the city returned a work by Gustav Klimt to
the family of a Viennese Jew, after litigation. Recently, the heirs of
Bernhard Altmann have successfully recovered a number of other paintings, Mr
Schoenberg said, including an early portrait of a woman by Gustav Klimt
which was returned by Austria on 4 May from the Belvedere and which will be
included in a Sothebyís sale in London on 21 June.
After the 1938 Dorotheum sale, it became the property of Gustav Uccicky,
Nazi-era film director and illegitimate son of Klimt, who donated it to the
Belvedere in 1961. A work from the Altmann collection by Egger-Lienz was
returned by the city of Linz, and paintings by Waldmüller and Rahl were
returned by Vienna. Germany is returning a painting by Lenbach, Mr
The 1938 sales catalogue for the Bernhard Altmann sale bears a swastika
to the name Dorotheum. ìThe Dorotheum was owned by the State and under Nazi
control from 1938 to 1945,î said a Dorotheum provenance researcher, in a
telephone interview. ìTherefore, it took part in the sale of Jewish
property. The Dorotheum itself was never active in the seizure of Jewish
assets. Nazi authorities consigned the works of art to the Dorotheum, and
the Dorotheum paid over the [net] proceeds to the Nazi authoritiesî. After
the privatisation of the Dorotheum in 2001-02, an extensive research project
was started by the new owners, and since the autumn of 2003, provenance
research has been conducted for objects consigned to the auction house.