Old Master Painting Pulled from Auction After French Government Inquiry

The painting was reportedly looted by the Nazis.

Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Man (1647). Photo: Im Kinsky.
Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Man (1647).
Photo: Im Kinsky.

Vienna’s im Kinsky auction house has removed Portrait of a Man, a painting by Dutch Old Master Bartholomeus van der Helst, from its April 12 and 13 sales. The lot was pulled at the request of the French government, which believes the painting was looted by Nazis, according to Agence France-Presse.

The painting was once part of the collection of Adolphe Schloss, a Jewish art collector who lived in Paris. The Nazis seized the collection in April 1943 after invading France, and earmarked Portrait of a Man for the planned the Führermuseum in Linz. The canvas was recovered by Allied forces following the war, but was reportedly “stolen from an Allied art collecting point” afterward, the Art Newspaper notes.

The Schloss collection contained 333 paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters, according to France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, which lists it as “the last great Flemish and Dutch art collection to be assembled in the nineteenth century in France.” To date, 162 works have been restituted, which leaves 171 remaining, including seven that are currently the subject of legal claims.

Portrait of a Man carried a high pre-sale estimate of €30,000 ($34,300) and the auction house noted that it was acquired by its current owner “in good faith” in 2004. However, im Kinsky listed the painting’s disputed provenance in the auction catalogue for the cancelled sale.

“It is impossible to have ‘good will’ for a painting bought in 2004 that features in every database of stolen assets, as well as in the Interpol register,” the lawyer for Schloss’s descendants, Antoine Comte, told AFP. He said that the French culture ministry hopes to take “a path of mediation” in order to have the painting promptly returned to its “legitimate owners.”

Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Gentleman, seated, before a balustrade, a landscape with a country house and a distant view of Haarlem beyond (1655). Photo: courtesy the artnet Price Database.

Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Gentleman, seated, before a balustrade, a landscape with a country house and a distant view of Haarlem beyond (1655).
Photo: courtesy the artnet Price Database.

“For me this is partly about showing up the differences in the law across Europe,” said im Kinsky managing director Ernst Ploil to the Art Newspaper. “In Austria, if you are a good-faith buyer, you immediately acquire good title to an artwork.”

According to the artnet Price Database, Van der Helst’s record at auction was set in 2010 at Christie’s London with the £481,250 ($760,508) sale of a 1655 canvas titled Portrait of a Gentleman. That work is just one of nine pieces by the artist that have sold in excess of $100,000.

Cases involving artwork seized by the Nazis can often take years to resolve, such as the ongoing legal battle over Amedeo Modigliani‘s Seated Man with a Cane, now linked to the Panama Papers leak through the Nahmad family. Recently resolved cases include a Camille Pissarro painting that the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma finally agreed to return to a French Holocaust survivor following a three-year court case.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share