MFA Boston Returns Wartime-Looted 17th-Century Painting to Heirs

  • BOSTON, Massachusetts
  • /
  • January 24, 2022

  • Email
View of Beverwijk, 1646, Salomon van Ruysdael. ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has reached an agreement to return View of Beverwijk (1646) by Salomon van Ruysdael, which had been looted during World War II, to the heirs of Ferenc Chorin (1879–1964). The Jewish collector had deposited the painting along with other works at the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest in 1943, before he and his family fled Hungary in 1944. At the end of World War II, the bank reported that Chorin’s vault had been emptied in January 1945, during the Siege of Budapest. Despite the family’s efforts to locate the missing contents of the vault in the postwar years, they were unable to recover the Ruysdael until new provenance information was published in recent years. The painting is currently on public view at Christie’s in New York, prior to an auction later in the year.

“We are pleased to have worked so quickly and amicably with the heirs of Ferenc Chorin to redress this historical loss,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “The return of Ruysdael’s View of Beverwijk underscores the importance of transparency and providing online access to our collection.”

Chorin was a highly influential figure in the world of Hungarian economic life during the interwar years. A lawyer by training, he was an industrialist, a banker and a key member of Hungary’s National Association of Industrialists. He supported the arts and literature from an early age. In addition to works by Salomon van Ruysdael, Alfred Sisley, François Millet, Charles-François Daubigny and the Hungarian masters Mihály Munkácsy, Pál Szinyei-Merse and Károly Ferenczy, Chorin’s collection included dozens of Ushak carpets, Italian Renaissance furniture, and old silvers from Augsburg, Nuremberg, Vienna, the Hungarian Highlands and Transylvania. He purchased the Ruysdael painting around 1931, probably from the estate of collector Frigyes Glück (1858–1931).

As Nazi influence grew in Europe, Chorin funded opposition movements and papers, and generously supported Jews who fled to Hungary from Nazi-occupied territories. In the aftermath of the first Allied bombings of Budapest in September 1942, collectors began looking for safe storage options for their artworks. Chorin chose to deposit his into a vault at the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest on March 22, 1943. In March 1944, when German troops invaded Hungary, Chorin and his family went into hiding to escape persecution. However, Chorin was located and soon after deported. He survived the war because the Germans needed his business knowledge and traded access to the Weiss Csepel Factory for the lives of the extended family. After escaping to Portugal, they eventually settled in New York in 1947.

In the aftermath of the looting and destruction that took place during the Siege of Budapest, the contents of Chorin’s vault at the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest were reported as missing. The provenance of the Ruysdael painting after 1945 remains untraced. In 1982, the MFA acquired it from a London dealer with no information about its history other than that it had come from a Swiss collection. The work was listed in “Sacco di Budapest” Depredation of Hungary 1938-1949, a 1988 publication on Hungarian war losses, but because it was published with an incorrect image and description, the Museum was not aware that the View of Beverwijk had belonged to Chorin or was considered missing.

In 2019, scholar Sándor Juhász notified the MFA that View of Beverwijk once belonged to Glück, the collector from whose estate Chorin had purchased the painting. This new information, posted on the MFA’s website, allowed the Chorin heirs to locate their family’s painting in 2021.

“Historical justice entails not only restituting the works of art that have been stolen by the Nazis. In many cases the claimants have to struggle for years before obtaining justice,” said Agnes Peresztegi of Soffer Avocats in Paris, attorney for the Chorin family. “In this case, I would like to pay homage to the MFA for not only restituting the work to its rightful owners, but also doing it in an elegant, professional, swift and just manner.”

Tags: european art

  • Email