Nazi-Looted Corot Painting to Be Sold by Sotheby’s
By Catherine Hickley
March 12 (Bloomberg) — Sotheby’s will offer a painting by the French artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot in an auction of 19th-century art after a Dutch museum returned the work to the heirs of a Jewish banker persecuted by the Nazis.
“Jeune femme a la fontaine” (Young Woman at a Well) is estimated to fetch as much as 1.2 million pounds ($1.8 million) in the June 2 London sale,Sotheby’s said in a statement sent by e-mail. Previous owners included a patron of Claude Monet, and a porcelain-factory owner from Limoges. It was acquired by the Hamburg banker Eduard Ludwig Behrens in 1889.
Georg Behrens, who inherited the painting, was arrested by the Nazis in 1938 and imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp after the family banking firm was seized. He was forced to pawn all his possessions to the Nazi state to obtain his exit visa for Belgium. He never retrieved the painting, and on the advice of the Dutch Restitutions Committee, it was returned in 2008 to his heirs.
“The Netherlands was very cooperative — it all happened very fast,” said Ingolf Rosemann of Babeg GmbH, the Berlin- based research company that is assisting the four heirs, some of whom are elderly, in recovering looted property. The heirs have asked not to be identified by name, he said.
Sotheby’s said “Jeune femme a la fontaine” ranks “among Corot’s finest figure paintings of the 1860s and 1870s” and will be “one of the centerpieces” of the auction.
It is one of about 650,000 works seized by the Nazis during Adolf Hitler’s 12-year rule, according to the New York- based Conference on Jewish Material Claims. Many were looted from Jewish industrialists and professionals, who were among the biggest art collectors in pre-World War II Germany.
Behrens owned one of the most important private art collections in Hamburg, focusing mainly on 19th-century German art, Rosemann said. The heirs have reached agreement on four other stolen paintings, he said: in two cases, the artworks were returned; in one, the museum bought it back from the heirs, and in a fourth case, they accepted a financial settlement. They are negotiating over two further paintings, he said.
After escaping Germany for Belgium and then France, Behrens was again interned in a camp in the south of France before he finally obtained a visa for Cuba. He returned to Hamburg after the war and lived there until his death in 1956.
The painting resurfaced in 1941 at the Berlin art dealer Hans W. Lange, who purchased it for the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Dutch city of Otterlo, where it hung for 66 years. Lange acquired it with funds paid to the museum as compensation for three paintings in its collection that Hitler had earmarked for his planned Fuehrermuseum in Linz.
The fund was “a smokescreen to give the impression that this was an exchange rather than the confiscation it really was,” Sotheby’s said in the statement.
“Jeune femme a la fontaine” shows a woman in a rust- colored, long skirt, with one hand on her hip and the other leaning on the edge of the well. Her serious face is in profile, her dark hair pulled back in a red ribbon. At her foot is a large water urn.
A Corot figure painting, “Juive d’Alger” (Jewess from Algiers) fetched $4.75 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in November 2007, a record for the artist.
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin firstname.lastname@example.org.