Looted paintings at the Dorotheum
In 1941 a pair of landscapes by Norbert Grund, an 18th century Bohemian artist, were looted by the Nazis in Holland from a private collection, and sent to Berlin. Sixty years later they re-appeared together at the Dorotheum, the then state-owned auction house in Vienna, having been sent for sale by a consignor in Germany. The auction catalogue contained no provenance information, but the paintings were identical in size and composition to the missing works, images of which were held by the Commission.
The Dorotheum sale was scheduled to commence at noon on 22 March 2001. Through its research the Commission learned of the proposed sale only on 19th March and negotiations on behalf of the family began immediately.
At 10 am on the morning of the sale, the Dorotheum finally agreed, after considerable discussion with the Commission, to withdraw the two paintings from the sale. However, the Commission was subsequently informed by Interpol that the auction house was intending to return them to the German consignor.
The Commission was aware that it was then common practice amongst dealers and auction houses to return works with a suspect provenance to their consignor. After further negotiation with the Dorotheum, the auction house was persuaded to retain the paintings in safe custody. The Commission then finalised an agreement whereby the paintings were returned to their rightful owners.
Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission, said: "We had great fears that the paintings would disappear again and are very pleased that the Dorotheum committed itself to retaining them and to finding an amicable and appropriate solution to this case. It is the first time this has happened in Austria, and it has set a precedent of good practice for auction houses everywhere."
Since 2001 the Commission has restituted two other art works to this family, and negotiated the return of a third, found in the possession of the notorious Nazi art looter, Bruno Lohse. Read more.
Also since 2001, the Dorotheum has adopted the precedent of good practice established in this case and aims to assist families to recover their works of art which come up for sale.