Stolen painting returned to owner's estate

May 6, 2009 3:44:23 PM PDT
An oil painting subjected by the Nazis to forced dispossession in 1937 was returned to the estate of its rightful owner at a repatriation ceremony Wednesday. Saint Hieronymus, also called "St. Jerome" and "Heiliger Hieronymus" and attributed to Italian artist Ludovico Carracci, was returned to Dr. Max Stern at the Leo Baeck Institute for the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry.

Dr. Stern, a Jewish art dealer in Germany, had been ordered by the Nazi Reich Chamber for the Fine Arts to liquidate his gallery and its inventory in 1937. After losing an appeal of the Reich Chamber's ruling, Stern was forced to consign most of his works of art, including Saint Hieronymus, to the Lempertz Auction House, a Nazi government-approved art purveyor, for a forced sale.

The Nazi government also prevented Stern from retrieving the auction proceeds. Stern fled Germany after the forced sale and eventually settled in Canada. During World War II, many of Lempertz Auction's records were destroyed by bombing, hampering post-war searches to identify and locate the purchasers of his collection.

Stern filed a restitutionary claim with the military government in the British zone of occupied Germany, placed advertisements in Canadian Art and Die Weltkunst in 1948 and 1952, respectively, and visited Europe in 1949 to search for his missing artworks.

In 1958, he initiated judicial proceedings in Germany, and in 1964, a German Court awarded Stern with damages limited to profits lost due to the forced sale of his art collection. Saint Hieronymus has also been listed in three separate stolen art registries.

Stern died in 1987, leaving any interest in his collection, including Saint Hieronymus, to his estate. In May 2000, Lempertz Auction House -- the same auction house that led the forced sale of Saint Hieronymus in 1937 -- sold the painting to Manhattan art dealer Richard Feigen, an art gallery owner.

When Feigen purchased Saint Hieronymus, he inquired about the provenance of the painting, but was not alerted to the circumstances of the 1937 sale.

After reading press reports about the recent repatriation on April 21, 2009, Holocaust Remembrance Day, of "Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe" to the Stern Estate, Feigen determined that Saint Hieronymus was, in fact, stolen Holocaust art belonging to the Stern Estate.

Feigen immediately contacted Immigration and Customes Enforcement and expressed his wish to return the painting. Feigen then entered into a voluntary stipulation, consenting to seizure of Saint Hieronymus, to facilitate its return to the Stern Estate through this Office and ICE without the need for any judicial proceedings.

"On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we had the honor of returning a painting stolen by the Nazis to the estate of Dr. Max Stern," acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin said. "Today, thanks to Richard Feigen's selfless action upon hearing about that event, we have the honor of returning another painting stolen by the Nazis to Dr. Stern's estate."