Stern Heirs Recover Winterhalter Painting and Two Others
In 1935, Dr. Max Stern who owned an art gallery in Düsseldorf, Germany, received a letter from the Reich Chamber for the Fine Arts demanding liquidation of his gallery and its inventory. Two years later, Dr. Stern, persecuted as a German Jew, felt forced to comply with Nazi orders to sell his inventory. About 250 paintings from Dr. Stern’s collection were consigned to an auction house in Cologne and eventually auctioned off below their market value. Dr. Stern fled Germany in 1937 and later immigrated to Canada; he never received the proceeds of the sale.
Immediately after the war, Dr. Stern took steps to recover his dispersed collection through diplomatic channels and restitution proceedings afforded by the Canadian Military Mission, the British military government and German courts. One of the paintings he was never able to locate was a painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter entitled “Mädchen aus den Sabiner Bergen” (Girl from the Sabine Mountains). In recent years, Stern’s beneficiaries, Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal and The Hebrew University in Jerusalem formed the Max Stern Art Restitution Project to continue Dr. Stern’s efforts recovering the Nazi-looted art.
In 2004, the Art Loss Register, a private database of lost and stolen art, alerted the Stern Estate to an upcoming auction where the Winterhalter painting in question was to be offered. The Stern Estate made a claim for restitution of the painting; however, instead of honoring the claim, the auction house and its consignor refused to return the painting, sending it to Germany for appraisal and safekeeping instead. The Stern Estate brought a law suit in Rhode Island (where the consignor lived) seeking summary judgment.
In December of 2007, Chief United States District Judge for the District of Rhode Island ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs, ordering the Defendant to turn over the painting to the Stern Estate. The Court held that a Nazi order requiring a “forced sale” was tantamount to theft and that a thief cannot pass good title.
Additionally, in separate actions in April and May 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned two paintings to the Foundation. Both recoveries resulted from relatively new information on databases and the cooperation of the government and private parties.
Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Mï¿½dchen aus den Sabiner Bergen ("Young Girl from the Sabine Mountains")