Ample cases of restitution for artworks looted in Nazi Germany have been making headlines for weeks, but one of the most major cases was announced yesterday. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation will return a painting by German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, titled “Artillerymen” (1915), to the living heirs of German Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim.
The Guggenheim Foundation carried out two years of extensive research to uncover the history of the painting, cooperating with the Holocaust Claims Processing Office of New York State’s Department of Financial Services and the Flechtheim heirs’ lawyers.
A press release issued by the Guggenheim on October 4 explains:
[A]fter Flechtheim fled Germany in 1933, moving to Switzerland, Paris and finally London, Artillerymen was in the custody of his niece Rosi Hulisch (Dr. Hulton’s aunt), who remained in Nazi Germany until her death by suicide in 1942 on the eve of her deportation to a concentration camp. In 1938, the painting was acquired in Germany by Kurt Feldhäusser, a member of the Nazi party. By that time, Flechtheim’s sole designated heir, nephew Henry Alfred Hulton, was living as a refugee in London. Research also confirms that both before and after Flechtheim’s death the Nazis singled him out as a target of particularly virulent anti-Semitic propaganda.
Feldhäusser was killed in Germany in 1945 and his art collection was left to his mother, who consigned it to the Weyhe Gallery in New York in 1949. Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. May of St. Louis, Missouri purchased Artillerymen in 1952 and donated it to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York in 1956. In 1988, the painting was transferred by MoMA to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in exchange for other works. The Guggenheim relied on Donald E. Gordon’s catalogue raisonné of the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1968), which incorrectly stated that before Artillerymen had entered Feldhäusser’s collection, the painting had been owned by German collector Hermann Lange. New research shows that the painting was owned at that time by Flechtheim and not Lange.
“An essential part of the work of the Guggenheim Foundation is the ongoing investigation into the history and provenance of our collection, and we regard this responsibility with the greatest seriousness. After an extensive examination of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this work and in keeping with the 1998 Washington Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and the guidelines of the American Association of Museum Directors, we are satisfied that it will be restituted to the Hultons,” Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, said in the release.