Stolen Art Returns Home after 60 Years

  • Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's "Farm in Dangast" (1910) will be returned by the city of Berlin to the heir of Robert Graetz, who was killed at Auschwitz.  Source: BPK via Angelika Enderlein.

    Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's "Farm in Dangast" (1910) will be returned by the city of Berlin to the heir of Robert Graetz, who was killed at Auschwitz. Source: BPK via Angelika Enderlein.

  • Created by a Cologne master, the Flagellation of Christ dates to the late 15th century and originally formed part of a wing of an altarpiece.

    Created by a Cologne master, the Flagellation of Christ dates to the late 15th century and originally formed part of a wing of an altarpiece.

    IU News Service

A painting stolen from Berlin in the chaotic aftermath of WWII, and subsequently sold to the Indiana University Art Museum, is finally on its way back to Germany after years of investigation, according to the IU News Room.

The 15th century oil on panel, which depicts the flagellation of Christ, was originally part of an altarpiece and created by an unknown artist of the Cologne school.  The relatively small image shows a bound and bloodied Christ encircled by four tormentors who brandish flails and clubs. 

The piece was part of an IU Art Museum research project regarding the looting and destruction of art during World War II.

A British soldier took the artwork from the Jagdschloss Grunewald Museum in Berlin sometime during the summer of 1945.  From him, it passed into the hands of an art dealer and then on to former IU President Herman Wells, who bought it for his personal collection in 1967.  In 1985 Wells donated the “Flagellation of Christ” to the IU Art Museum, not realizing it was a piece of looted art.  While the IU agreed to return the painting to Berlin some time ago, the painting remained in their possession while the Jagdschloss Grunewald Museum was undergoing major renovations. 

The painting is just one of 3,000 works listed by the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation in recently created catalogues detailing art lost during and after World War II.

The return of the “Flagellation of Christ” coincides with the return of two other looted German art works, both by Expressionist painter Karl Schmitt-Rottluff.  According to Bloomberg, the paintings belonged to Berlin businessman Robert Graetz, who was deported to Auschwitz during World War II and later killed there. The paintings, a landscape and a self-portrait, are together valued at $4 million. 

Schmitt-Rottluff was part of a group of artists called Die Brücke(or the Bridge) who favored intense color combined with an emphasis on primitivism.  Other prominent members of the group included Emile Nolde and Ernst Kirchner, both of whom also created works of art that have been at the center of a looting controversy.  All three artists were part of Hitler’s ban on what he deemed entartete Kunst of “Degenerate Art.” 

The exact details of the disappearance of the paintings are not known.  However, after a government panel looked into the matter, Germany decided the best course of action was to return the paintings to the victim’s heir and grandson, Roberto Graetz. 

Germany is a supporter of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi confiscated art created in 1998. The city of Berlin will return the paintings.

(Report: Christine Bolli for ARTFIXdaily)

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