Did the Nazis force an art sale? The question persists 88 years later.

The Nazi authorities dismissed Curt Glaser from his post as director of the Berlin Art Library in April 1933 because he was Jewish. He was also evicted from his home and, the following month, sold most of his art collection in two auctions.

Since 2007, 13 private collectors or institutions – including the Dutch Restitution Committee, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne and the city of Basel – have concluded that Glaser had sold his collection in May 1933 as a result. of Nazi persecution. , and agreed to return or pay compensation to his heirs for the works of art he sold that ended up in their collections.

But the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston have repeatedly rejected claims by heirs for paintings sold at the same auctions. They argue that there is not enough evidence that Glaser sold under duress.

The disparity in rulings highlights how, 76 years after the end of World War II, the criteria for determining whether a work of art that changed hands during the Nazi persecution of Jews should be returned still remains a subject of debate.

The Met and the Art Gallery have both recognized claims on works of art sold under duress. The Met has settled eight claims for works of art looted by the Nazis or sold under duress since 1998, when the United States endorsed Washington’s International Principles, which called for “just and equitable” solutions to deal with human rights. claims for looted works of art. In 2009, Terezin’s statement, also endorsed by the United States, clarified that this requirement also applied to duress sales. The Museum of Fine Arts has already settled the claims of the heirs for 13 objects sold under duress.

But in the case of two works sold at an auction on May 9, 1933 – Abraham Bloemaert’s 1596 painting “Moses Striking the Rock”, which is owned by the Met, and “Actaeon Watching Diana and Her Nymphs Bathing” by Joachim Anthoniesz Wtewael from 1612, which belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts – the museums took a position at odds with other institutions that held Glaser’s works from this sale.

The Dutch Restitution Committee, for example, returned a painting to the Glaser Heirs in 2010, determining that the sale of the work in the May 9 auction “may be considered unintentional.” The committee concluded that it was “likely that Glaser was not able to freely dispose of the proceeds of the auctions” but “likely must have used them to finance his escape to the United States.”

Glaser fled Germany two months after the sale. He died in New York in 1943.

The complexity of valuing art sales more than 80 years after the fact means that divergent views can emerge. “It can be very difficult to determine whether a sale was made under duress or not,” says Friederike von Brühl, a Berlin lawyer specializing in art law. “In practice, we look at many criteria: was the purchase price adequate? Was the seller free to spend the product? When exactly was the sale?

For Agnes Peresztegi, lawyer and former president of the New York-based Commission for Art Recovery, the situation highlights the limited state support for claimants in the United States. or a commission that makes the decision. “She said.” In the United States, everything is private. The current owner is the decision maker. Museums are free to reject or fight claims and there is no one to tell them that it is bogus. For many plaintiffs, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive, especially for less valuable work.

The Met believes Glaser did not sell under duress. “After years of research and careful examination, the museum continues to uphold its claim that ‘Moses striking the rock’ was not illegally appropriate and belongs to the Met,” a museum spokesperson wrote in a statement. E-mail.

The MFA said in an emailed statement that “there is no doubt that Curt Glaser lost his post at the Kunstbibliothek and the residence that accompanied him due to racial persecution.” However, he argued that his decision to sell the art may also have been influenced by his personal life. Glaser’s first wife, with whom he had built the collection, died in 1932.

The museum added “there is no indication that Glaser did not receive or could not access the proceeds from the auctions, or that he was under financial duress.” The price paid for the Wtewael was “fair and in line with other Dutch Mannerist paintings,” he said.

In an earlier claim, the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel ruled against returning eight designs to the heirs in 2009. It said Glaser’s decision to sell the works was prompted by a number of factors and that the price he got was fair.

Born in Leipzig in 1879, Glaser began his career as an art critic, became a buyer for the Royal Gallery of Prints in Berlin, and was appointed director of the Kunstbibliothek, or art library, in 1924. In salons d Monday art regular, he and his wife entertained artists and intellectuals in their apartment in the 1920s. His friends included Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

But when Adolf Hitler’s government passed a law removing Jews and political opponents from public service in 1933, Glaser was forced to quit his post and auctioned off most of his art collection, his library. and its furniture. The first sale, held at the Internationales Kunst- und Auktions-Haus on May 9, 1933, was followed by a second two-day sale at the Max Perl auction house in Berlin on May 18 and 19. The market was depressed. Curator Otto Fischer, in a report to the Basel Art Commission on his acquisitions at the second auction, said the prices were “not exactly at their lowest” but “low” nonetheless.


In 2020, some 12 years after rejecting a claim from the Glaser heirs, the city of Basel agreed to pay them an undisclosed sum based on a review of the case. In return, the city’s Kunstmuseum has preserved works on paper estimated at over $ 2 million by artists such as Munch, Kirchner, Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Auguste Rodin and Marc Chagall.

The city said Glaser “occupied an exposed position when the National Socialists took power and was the target of the unjust regime.” The persecution he suffered was “the reason Curt Glaser emigrated and on May 18-19, 1933 auctioned off a considerable portion of his works of art.” But unlike the Dutch position, she argued that full restitution “is not an appropriate solution” because “it would be too one-sided”.

Both American museums have offered to label the works to recognize Glaser’s contribution to the history of art. In a letter this year to a family lawyer, the Met said their label would also acknowledge that Glaser “lost his job due to the anti-Semitic policies of the newly elected Nazi government.” He added, however, that the label would say that the sale of his collection “can be attributed both to the political situation in Germany and to personal factors”.

Glaser’s family rejects the suggestion that his wife’s death motivated him to sell. The Met and the MFA “offer a counter-narrative and want to discuss on a speculative basis the psychology of Glaser instead of talking about the material facts and historical circumstances for all Jews at this time”, Paul Livant, the grandnephew de Glaser and one of his heirs, said.

David Rowland, the New York lawyer who represents the Glaser Heirs, agreed, describing the situation as a “rendition roulette” – the chances of success depend as much on where the art has landed as on the merit of their work. case, he said.

“How come the Dutch, the Swiss and the Germans found out that the sales were made under duress, but not the Met and the MFA?” He asked. “A physical confiscation by the Nazis is not necessary for Washington’s principles to apply and for a ‘just and equitable’ solution to be justified. “

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