Dozens of artworks once stolen from Jewish collectors by the Nazis in the 1930s and ’40s will be exhibited in New York starting on Friday.
Taken before and during World War II, the paintings being displayed at Manhattan’s Jewish Museum include works by European greats Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.
Henri Matisse’s “Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar” from 1939 will be on show at the Jewish Museum’s show “Afterlives.” Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum
In their introduction to the show, curators Darsie Alexander and Sam Sackeroff described the pillaging and subsequent recovery of artworks during World War II as “one of the most dramatic stories of 20th-century art.”
“Artworks that withstood the immense tragedy of the war survived against extraordinary odds, escaping through both planned efforts and unforeseen opportunity,” they wrote. “Many exist today as a result of great personal risk and ingenuity. These objects … have often traveled great distances, passing through many hands.”
Featured among the more than 50 artworks in the show, “Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art,” are two Henri Matisse paintings that once belonged to the Jewish gallerist Paul Rosenberg. Both painted in 1939, “Daisies” and “Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar” were taken from a bank vault in Bordeaux, France, where they had been stored for safekeeping. The latter artwork had even been part of Nazi commander Hermann Goering’s personal collection before being recovered and returned to Rosenberg after the war.
Kurt Schwitters’ “Opened by Customs,” made in 1937-38. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum/Tate / Tate Images
The New York exhibition also includes items once stolen from Jewish art collector David David-Weill, who had more than 2,000 artworks seized during the occupation, and a collage by German artist Kurt Schwitters that features Nazi customs stamps and administrative labels.
Although the Nazis prohibited the production of modern art, the regime profited from its sale and even exhibited looted works to promote nationalist values. Included in the forthcoming show is Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s “Purim,” a painting featured in the Nazis’ infamous 1937 propaganda exhibition “Degenerate,” which was staged to demonstrate the supposed threat modern art posed to German identity.
Marc Chagall’s “Purim,” painted in 1917 and exhibited by the Nazis as so-called “degenerate” art in 1937. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum
In addition to paintings and drawings, “Afterlives” will also feature 80 examples of Jewish ceremonial art, such as candelabrums and spice boxes — some of which had previously been taken from plundered synagogues. Most of the items going on display have been loaned from museums around the US, though others are from the Jewish Museum’s own 30,000-item collection.
As well as exploring the items’ seizure and restitution, the exhibition will consider how objects crossed borders to end up in private collections and art institutions around the world. According to a museum press release, photographs and archival documents will reveal how artworks passed through “distribution centers, sites of recovery and networks of collectors.”
A photograph of materials recovered and in storage at the Jewish Museum in New York. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum
Top image: Max Pechstein, “Landscape,” 1912