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Germany’s Staatsgalerie Stuttgart museum returned a 15th century Renaissance painting stolen by Nazis during World War II to the estate of a Jewish art dealer. The museum acquired Virgin and Child, which is attributed to the Master of Flémalle (1375-1444) who is identified by historians as Robert Campin, in 1948.

The painting once belonged to Max Stern (1904-1987) who lost over 400 paintings to the Nazi regime during a forced sale in 1937. After Jews were banned from selling art in Nazi-occupied Europe, Stern shuttered his Dusseldorf gallery and escaped to London in December of the same year. Before settling in Montreal, Stern sold even more paintings, including Virgin and Child, in order to buy a German exit visa for his mother. Stern went on to purchase the Dominion Gallery of Fine Arts and established himself as one of Canada’s most important art dealers and collectors.

Upon his death in 1987, Stern donated a portion of his estate to Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal as well as the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For the past ten years Concordia has been working to recover the hundreds of paintings Stern lost at the hands of the Nazis. The initiative, known as the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, has facilitated the return of 9 works originally belonging to Stern; Virgin and Child is the 10th and the only work to be returned from a German museum thus far.

A ceremony was held on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin to celebrate the painting’s return.  

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Wednesday, 13 February 2013 14:30

Sotheby’s Contemporary Sale Garners $116 Million

Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction in London totaled $116 million on February 12, 2013. The sale featured a number of works by art market powerhouses such as Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), and Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). Bacon’s oil on canvas triptych Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1980), which sold for $21.5 million, was the evening’s top lot. German collector, Jurgen Hall, who plans to loan the work to a major international institution, purchased the painting.  

44 of the 54 lots offered sold and over 20 works brought more than $1 million dollars. Highlights included two Richter paintings, Wolke (Cloud) (1976) and Abstraktes Bild (769-1) (1992), which sold for $11.9 million and $12.8 million respectively. Basquiat’s Untitled (Pech/Oreja) (1982-83), a large-scale acrylic, oil stick, and paper collage, went for $10. 7 million and another one of his hefty works, Five Fish Species (1983), sold for $7.8 million. Both works were purchased by New York-based art dealer Jose Mugrabi.

While there were some major sales, the auction fell comfortably within its pre-sale estimate of $95.7 million to $132.2 million. The contemporary auctions will continue tonight, Feburary 13, 2013, at Christie’s London.

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The late German-born British painter, Lucian Freud (1922-2011), specified in his will that his private art collection was to be donated to British museums rather than burdening his family with an inheritance tax after his death. The bequest is part of a British law that allows “acceptance in lieu” of taxes for authors, artists, and collectors.

Considered one of Britain’s greatest painters best known for his portraits and figurative works, Freud owned a number of important masterpieces including Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s (1796-1875) Femme á la Manche Jaune (The Italian Woman or Woman with Yellow Sleeve) and three bronze sculptures by Edgar Degas (1834-1917). It has been determined that the Corot painting, which has not been on public view in over 60 years, will go to the National Gallery in London and the Degas sculptures, Horse Galloping on Right Foot, La Masseuse, and Portrait of a Woman Head Resting on One Hand, will go to Somerset House’s Courtauld Gallery.

The donation is a thank you of sorts from Freud to Britain. The grandson of Sigmund Freud, Lucian escaped Hitler’s wrath when he came to England as a child. He became a British citizen in 1939.

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Christie’s Renaissance and Old Master sales, which ran from January 29-31, 2013 in New York, set a number of important records this week. First, during a sale of works by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) on January 29, a woodcut titled The Rhinoceros sold for $866,500, setting a record for the artist at auction. The piece, which was completed in 1515, surpassed its presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. The auction, which presented 65 works from a private collection, brought $6 million in total.

The auction house’s Renaissance and Old Master sales brought in a total of $88.4 million, the highest total for the series of sales in New York since 2006. Contributing to the auctions’ huge success was a number of groundbreaking sales. Fra Bartolomeo’s (1472-1517) The Madonna and Child brought $12.96 million, the top price paid for the artist at auction. Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist sold for $10.4 million, also setting a record for the artist at auction. The Botticelli painting had previously been a part of the Rockefeller family’s collection for over 50 years.  

Nicholas Hall, Co-Chairman of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie’s said, “We are so pleased by the results of this week’s Renaissance sale that we have decided to repeat a themed Renaissance sale in January 2014.” He added that the sales have affirmed, “The strength and enduring appeal of Old Master works of art.”

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Last week at Sotheby’s auction house in London, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (809–4) sold to a telephone bidder for $34.2 million, the highest price paid for a living artist’s work at auction. Previously owned by musician and collector, Eric Clapton, the abstract painting was estimated to bring $14.1 million to $18.8 million.

Alex Branczik, Senior Director and Head of the Evening Auction of Contemporary Art, said, “The combination of outstanding provenance and gold-standard quality in this sublime work by this blue-chip artist made for an historic auction moment. Gerhard Richter’s international appeal as one of the hottest Contemporary artists was once again confirmed this evening.”

The German postwar painter, best known for his abstract and figurative works, was recently the subject of a critically acclaimed retrospective, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, at the Tate Modern in London, the Pompidou Center in Paris, and the Staatlichen Museum in Berlin. After the show, the prices of Richter’s works have continued to climb.

Friday’s sale beat out Jasper Johns’ Flag painting from the 1960s, which brought $28.6 million at Christie’s in 2010, for a living artist at auction. Richter, 80, lives in Cologne, Germany.

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