The Met Just Returned a Prized Silver Cup, Stolen by a Nazi Art Dealer, to Its Rightful Heirs After Almost 80 Years

The object was taken from a German-born Jewish banker before he and his wife were murdered at concentration camps.

16th-century silver stem cup once owned by Eugen Gutmann. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has restituted a 16th-century silver stem cup seized from the collection of a German Jewish banker. It was then bought in a forced sale by a notorious, Nazi-affiliated art dealer in 1941. 

According to the New York State Department of Financial Services’ Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), who assisted in evaluating the object, it has been returned to the family of Eugen Gutmann, a German-Jewish banker who amassed a prized trove of silver before his death in 1925. Gutmann’s collection was bequeathed to his son, Fritz Gutmann, who was murdered in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. 

“The [Met] is committed to ensuring that works of art wrongfully appropriated during the Nazi era are restituted to their rightful owners,” Max Hollein, director of the museum, said in a statement. “It is important that this work is returned to the heirs of Eugen Gutmann, and in doing so, we hope to play a small part in honoring the family and the heroic efforts of Fritz Gutmann in safeguarding his father’s collection.”

The three-and-a-half-inch-tall stem cup was made in Munich in the 16th century. Though it’s unknown when or how the elder Gutmann acquired it, the cup was included in a 1912 catalog of his collection published by art historian Otto von Falke. (Von Falke called the collection “worthy to rank beside the treasure-chambers of princes.”)

 Eugen Gutmann, 1897. Photo: ullstein bild via Getty Images.

Eugen Gutmann, 1897. Photo: ullstein bild via Getty Images.

Fritz Gutmann, a banker like his father, stored the inherited collection of silver at his home in the Netherlands. In 1941, the cup was one of many objects in the Guttman collection to appear on a list compiled by the Paris-based Nazi art dealer Karl Haberstock, who sought to acquire them through forced sale. Thereafter the cup was absent from all subsequent inventories of the Eugen Gutmann collection, and the family was never compensated for it after the war. The object entered the Met’s collection as a bequest in 1974. The museum did not respond to Artnet’s request for comment.

In 1943, Nazi officers escorted Gutmann and his wife from their house, telling them they were being transferred to Berlin. Instead, Gutmann was taken to Theresienstadt while his wife went to Auschwitz.

The Gutmann heirs opened an art claim with the HCPO in 2000 and have been working on restitution efforts since, a representative from the organization explained in an email.

In 2017, the HCPO filed a restitution claim to the Met on behalf of Simon Goodman, the grandson of Fritz Gutmann and great-grandson of Eugen Gutmann, after he discovered the cup in the museum’s collection. 

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