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Superintendent Lawsky Announces 15th Century Painting Lost During Nazi Persecution Restored To Rightful Heirs

March 5, 2013

Department of Financial Services’ Work in Documenting Painting’s Provenance
Leads to Its Return From German Museum to Heirs of Dr. Max Stern

Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, today announced that a 15th Century Renaissance painting lost from one of Germany’s most important commercial art galleries in the 1930s as a result of Nazi persecution has been restored to the estate of the late German-Jewish art dealer who owned the gallery.

The painting of the Virgin and Child, formerly attributed to an artist known as the Master of Flémalle, was restored to the estate of the late Dr. Max Stern on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin.

“The murders and persecution of millions of innocent people can never be erased, but the return of this artwork represents a small but important step in obtaining justice. The Department of Financial Services is proud of its work in securing the return of this painting to the Stern estate,” Superintendent Lawsky said.

The restoration of the painting from Staatsgalerie Stuttgart marks the first time in the 10-year history of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project that a German museum has returned to the estate an artwork that was lost as a result of Nazis persecution.

The painting was presented to Dr. Clarence Epstein, who leads the Stern project, which is dedicated to recovering artwork stolen from the Stern collection in Düsseldorf. The project is an undertaking of the Stern estate’s beneficiaries, Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Montreal’s McGill University and Concordia University, in association with the Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO).

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, which had been in possession of the Virgin and Child since 1948, agreed to restore it to the Stern estate after the Department was successful in documenting the painting’s provenance and reasserting the estate’s restitution claim.

A total of 10 works of art have been returned to the Stern estate since 2002 when the estate began pursuing restoration of artwork lost from the Stern collection. The Stern gallery had been established in 1913 and included many Dutch Old Master paintings.

In 1935, the German government notified Dr. Max Stern that he was legally prohibited from buying and selling art because he was Jewish. As a result, Dr. Stern was forced to sell more than 400 pieces from his gallery for a fraction of their market value. Dr. Stern used money from the sale of the Virgin and Child and several other forcibly sold paintings to secure an exit permit so his mother, Selma, could leave Germany.

Dr. Stern later fled Germany. He eventually settled in Montreal, where he became one of Canada’s most influential and important art dealers. He died in 1987 after bequeathing his assets, including any potential recovery of lost art works to Hebrew University, Concordia and McGill.

The Department’s HCPO was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover lost assets, such as dormant bank accounts, unpaid proceeds of insurance policies and artworks stolen or sold under duress. It is the only government entity in the world that provides such comprehensive services free of charge or commission. To date, HCPO has helped return over $163 million in assets to victims’ families while also recovering 65 works of art.