Gift of art to atone for looting by Nazis
The Times, 2 December 2004By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent
An American woman has gifted an Old Master drawing to the grandson of its original owner, who was tortured and murdered by the Nazis.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, inherited The Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison, a drawing attributed to Rembrandt, from her father, who bought it in good faith in the late 1970s.
When researching the drawing, she discovered that it had been owned by Arthur Feldmann, a Czech lawyer whose house in Brno was occupied within hours of the Germans crossing the border in 1939. A Jew, he died at their hands. His wife was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died.
The American owner had no wish to keep a drawing with such a painful history. She approached the International Foundation for Art Research in New York, which studies art authenticity and ownership.
She wanted the foundation to establish whether the work was the same drawing that had been in the Feldmann collection and, if so, whether it had been looted. In a move that the foundation believes to be unprecedented, she asked it to arrange the drawing’s return to Feldmann’s heirs and made clear that no money would be requested from them.
The drawing arrived in London yesterday, at the offices of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which has worked with Feldmann’s family for five years, trying to retrieve other drawings that he owned.
Anne Webber, the Commission’s co-chairman, said: “It is very heartening that collectors and museums throughout the world have become more sensitive to Holocaust claims and, as in this case, are doing ‘the right thing’.” She will pass on the drawing to Feldmann’s grandson, Uri Peled.
The Commission has undertaken extensive research into the family’s collection and last year recovered 135 drawings from the Moravska gallery in Brno, which had acquired them from the Nazis in 1941. The Commission’s restitution claim for four Feldmann drawings found in the British Museum has also been agreed.
Mr Peled said: “I very much appreciate the wish of this collector to seek us out and return the drawing to us. It means a great deal to our family.”
Sharon Flescher, executive director of the foundation, said: “The extraordinary gesture of the American owners . . . cannot be overestimated. The generosity of their actions stands out.”