Gurlitt Task Force Sides with Nazi Victim

Ruling adds weight to descendant's claim to valuable Max Liebermann painting.

A German task force whose mission is to determine the provenance (history of ownership) of paintings that were found in Cornelius Gurlitt‘s apartment in Munich has concluded that the 1901 painting Two Riders on the Beach, by Max Liebermann, should be returned to David Toren. Toren, who lives in New York City and is represented by Washington, DC-based firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, filed a suit this past March against the state of Bavaria and the Federal Republic of Germany demanding the return of the painting. Toren claimed the work as stolen from the Breslau villa of his great uncle David Friedman by Nazis. The task force recently informed Toren that it had completed an investigation and found that the work was indeed stolen from Friedmann and that Toren is among his rightful heirs.

The lawsuit, however, remains active, notes August Matteis, chairman of the firm. “We are extremely pleased, but not surprised, that the Task Force has agreed with our position that Two Riders On a Beach belongs to the heirs of David Friedman,” Matteis says. “This is a very important first step in returning the painting to its rightful owners and we hope that the German government will not further delay returning the painting that was stolen from David Friedman over 70 years ago.”

Toren has said that he can still remember where the painting had hung in his great uncle’s house. He learned that the painting was including in Gurlitt’s secret cache when news of its discovery broke in November of 2013. Now 88 years old and blind, Toren fled Germany when he was 14 with his brother. Their parents, who did not flee, died at Auschwitz. He was among the first few claimants to pursue works from the Gurlitt trove and said the suit was prompted by a lack of response by the German government.

Said Matteis: “We have no intention of dropping the lawsuit until Two Riders has been turned over to David Toren and the German government has provided us with further information about other stolen paintings belonging to David Friedmann that may be in the collection seized from Gurlitt.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story featured a different version of Max Liebermann’s Horseman on the beach (1901) that belonged not to the Gurlitt trove, but to Galerie Ludorff.]

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