Home Arts Dusseldorf settles with heirs of Jewish merchant over portrait hanging in mayor’s office

Dusseldorf settles with heirs of Jewish merchant over portrait hanging in mayor’s office

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The city of Düsseldorf has reached an agreement on a portrait from its collection, that of Wilhelm von Schadow The Artist’s Children (1830), ending a long-running dispute with the heirs of Max Stern, a Jewish art dealer forced to liquidate his gallery and flee Nazi Germany.

Under the terms of the settlement, which was approved by the city assembly yesterday, Düsseldorf bought the painting from Stern’s heirs for an undisclosed sum and will put it on display at the Kunstpalast museum from August. “I am happy that with this fair and just solution, this important painting remains in Düsseldorf,” said Stephan Keller, the city’s mayor.

Max Stern took over Galerie Stern on Düsseldorf’s Königsallee after his father’s death in 1934. The Nazis ordered him to liquidate the gallery in 1935, but he managed to keep it running until 1937, when he was forced to close and sell its stock at an auction in Cologne.

Stern fled Germany and settled in Montreal, where he again built a thriving art business as director and later owner of the Dominion Gallery. He died childless in 1987 and bequeathed most of his estate to three universities, Concordia and McGill in Montreal, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2002, his estate launched an initiative to recover his lost art, the Max Stern Art Restitution Project.

The Dr. Max and Iris Stern Foundation first filed a claim for Schadow’s portrait many years ago. But Dusseldorf later denied the claim, saying there was no conclusive evidence the painting had been lost due to Nazi-era persecution.

A new city council elected in 2020 took a different view and agreed to return the painting despite gaps in its provenance.

The portrait probably belonged to the gallery in 1931, when it was lent to an exhibition. In 1937, the Stern Gallery authorized its reproduction in a book on children’s paintings and provided the photograph – but it cannot be proven with certainty that the gallery owned it at this stage. The city of Düsseldorf acquired it from a private owner in 1959; for many years it hung in the mayor’s office.

“We could not prove that this was not a case of restitution, so we as the city government recommended to the assembly that it be returned,” Miriam said. Koch, the municipal official in charge of culture. “The major parties in the city council supported restitution.”

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