Restituted Nazi Looted Renaissance Artifact Expected to Fetch $777,000 at Auction

Nazi loot restitutions keep hitting the auction block fetching seven-figure sums.

A salt cellar dating to 1560. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

A salt cellar dating to 1560, part of a phenomenal trove of Renaissance and Baroque treasures bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in 2012, will hit the auction block next Thursday at Sotheby’s London with a presale estimate of £500,000 ($777,000).

The salt cellar—which belonged to the estate of British collector Michael Wellby and was donated to the museum after his death—was found to be Nazi loot and returned to the rightful heirs last year.

Upon receiving the Wellby bequest, the Ashmolean began researching the collection’s provenance as part of its due diligence, and experts discovered that, before WW2, the Renaissance-era salt cellar had belonged to the Budges, a Jewish couple whose 500-items estate was looted by the Nazis in 1937, after their deaths.

Shortly after discovering the troubling history of the salt cellar, the directors of the Oxford museum returned it to the Budge family. The heirs, in turn, have decided to fulfill the wish of Emma Budge and sell the salt cellar, with proceeds going to the care homes for the elderly that she and her husband had founded.

Renaissance Salt © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Renaissance salt cellar.
Photo: Courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

When the Ashmolean received Wellby’s bequest, the museum described it as one of the most important ones made to a British museum in more than 100 years. But Timothy Hugh Wilson, the museum’s keeper of the department of Western art, was apprehensive from the very beginning that the collection might be problematic, as most of it was gathered in the 1940s from German sources.

According to the Telegraph, however, there is no evidence to suggest that Wellby, a silver dealer based in Mayfair, acquired the piece in anything other than good faith.

The Ashmolean revelation follows the restitution of two of the most valuable artworks from the infamous Gurlitt collection. Last May, after a long wait, the heirs of Woman with a Fan (1923) by Henri Matisse and Two Riders on a Beach (1901) by Max Liebermann were told they could collect the artworks, which were found out to be Nazi loot, from a storage facility in Munich.

Last week, Liebermann’s Two Riders on a Beach went under the hammer, also at Sotheby’s London, fetching £1.9 million (almost $3 million).

Rosenberg family Christopher Marinello posing with the restituted painting Photo: The Art Recovery Group

Rosenberg family Christopher Marinello posing with a restituted Matisse painting.
Photo: Courtesy of The Art Recovery Group.

A 1902 portrait of Gertrud Loew by Gustav Klimt, recently restituted from the Klimt Foundation in Austria, sold for $39 million at the same auction.

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