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The Henie Onstad Art Center in Norway has agreed to return a portrait by Henri Matisse to the family of Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish art dealer who had his collection confiscated by Nazis during World War II. The museum was founded in 1968 by the Olympic figure skating champion, Sonja Henie, and her husband, Niels Onstad, a shipping magnate and art collector.

The Matisse painting was among the 162 works seized from Rosenberg by Nazis in 1941. The canvas was briefly in the possession of Hermann Goering, a leading member of the Nazi party. Onstad acquired the Matisse painting, “Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace,” in 1950, unaware of its troubled provenance. In 2012, the Rosenberg family’s lawyer contacted the Henie Onstad Art Center and demanded the restitution of the painting. After an extensive investigation, the museum decided to return the work to Rosenberg’s heirs. The painting, which had been one of the museum’s most popular works, is estimated to be worth around $20 million.

Norway is a signatory of the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which requires museums to examine their collections for potentially looted works. If stolen works are found, the museums are required to try to locate the rightful owners. The Henie Onstad Art Center investigated the Matisse painting’s past only after being contacted by the Rosenbergs’ lawyer. 

Published in News
Thursday, 02 May 2013 15:09

Old Master Collector Sues Sotheby’s

When Steven Brooks, a collector of Old Master paintings, purchased Louis-Michel van Loo’s Allegorical Portrait of a Lady as Diana Wounded by Cupid from Sotheby’s in 2004, he was unaware that the work was once owned by the German war criminal Hermann Goering. After it surfaced that Nazis possibly looted the work, Brooks deemed the painting worthless and decided to sue Sotheby’s for not thoroughly researching the work’s provenance.

The painting’s problematic past was revealed when Brooks tried to sell the painting at Christie’s in 2010. Specialists at the auction house discovered that Goering had purchased the painting in 1939, leading Christie’s to decline the offer to sell Portrait of a Lady on behalf of Brooks. Brooks’ lawsuit claims that Sotheby’s also refused to auction the work and won’t refund the nearly $90,000 he spent on the painting in 2004.

While there is no solid proof that the work was looted by Nazis, the uncertainty surrounding the painting makes it unsalable and in turn, monetarily worthless. Sotheby’s 2004 catalogue lacked any information on the painting between 1906 and 1987 and Christie’s was unable to determine anything other than the fact that Goering once owned the work. It is typical for private dealers to avoid works whose ownership cannot be traced between 1933, when the Nazis came to power, and 1945, when World War II ended, because of potentially problematic provenances.

There are currently no claimants for van Loo’s Allegorical Portrait of a Lady as Diana Wounded by Cupid.

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