May 5, 2015
Contact: Matt Anderson, 212-709-1691
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL SERVICES ANNOUNCES RETURN OF 17TH CENTURY PAINTING FROM FRANCE TO HEIR OF VICTIM OF NAZI PERSECUTION
DFS Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) has Helped Return $171 Million in Assets to Victims’ Families and Recover 101 Works of Art to Date
DFS Launching New Online Database and Virtual Art Gallery to Aid in Recovery Effort
Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, today announced – at a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City – that a 17th Century painting lost as a result of Nazi persecution is being returned to the heir of its rightful owner. The painting, Portrait of a Man, which had been held at the Louvre in Paris, was recovered with the assistance of the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) and returned with the cooperation of the French government.
At the ceremony, Superintendent Lawsky also announced DFS has launched a new virtual gallery and database of artwork that has been reported to the HCPO as lost between 1933 and 1945 due to Nazi persecution, which will help assist the HCPO’s efforts to recover such artwork and serve as an educational resource.
Superintendent Lawsky said: "While the terrible damage caused by Nazi persecution can never be repaired, we hope that the recovery of this painting will deliver at least some small measure of justice. The new online database our office is launching will serve as an important resource in returning additional art that was lost in the wake of the Holocaust to victims and their heirs. We thank all the parties involved in the restitution of this painting today –in particular, the heir’s attorneys, the French Government, and the Commission of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force during the Occupation (CIVS)."
The painting being returned today, Portrait of a Man, once belonged to Dr. August Liebmann Mayer, a renowned art historian and prominent curator. Due to ongoing anti-Semitism, Dr. Mayer resigned from his positions at the Bavarian State Paintings Collection and the University of Munich. On March 24, 1933, Dr. Mayer was arrested; his Munich home was searched; and his property was seized. During his detention, which lasted several months, Mayer was harassed and repeatedly tortured.
In 1935, hoping to escape Nazi persecution, Dr. Mayer fled with his family to France. He settled in Paris and, financially ruined, tried to pursue his career and share his expertise with the art world. However, when the Nazis invaded France, Dr. Mayer was once again a target of Nazi discrimination. His Parisian home was looted by the infamous Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). Among the items seized was his voluminous art library, which in part was confiscated by Hermann Goering. Dr. Mayer was arrested, taken to Drancy, and deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered on March 12, 1944.
The painting, Portrait of a Man, is being returned to the daughter of Dr. Mayer as a result of the work of the Department of Financial Services’ HCPO, which submitted a claim in collaboration with her two attorneys, Markus Stoetzel and Mel Urbach, to CIVS to recover the art work. CIVS, which is charged with resolving claims for art work in the MNR collection, quickly recognized the rightful claim of Dr. Mayer’s heir based on the provenance of the painting.
Dr. Mayer’s daughter, his lone survivor, through her lawyers Markus Stoetzel from Germany and Mel Urbach from the U.S., thanked DFS' HCPO and its director, Anna Rubin, for assisting with the return of this painting. They said: "Our client wishes to thank the French Republic and New York State: 'It is never too late to recognize the fate of those we have lost during the years of Nazi terror. My late father was a most distinguished art historian and a great art lover and I am glad that after more than seventy years, justice is finally being served.'"
According to her lawyers, "The State of New York is at the forefront of bringing closure to Nazi victims' families in the United States. Our close cooperation with the HCPO demonstrates that claimants from all over the world can achieve justice by forming powerful coalitions."
After World War II, items looted from Mayer’s home resurfaced in Germany. Some works of art were repatriated to France at the end of 1945. Portrait of a Man was part of the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR) collection, item number 801 and was reattributed to school of Giovanni Battista Moroni. Based on information available on the online database of the MNR collection, the painting was held at the Louvre.
DFS has created a new virtual gallery that focuses on the theft of artwork during the Second World War, and the HCPO's efforts to recover such artwork. The online gallery features historical information about looting and restitution; it provides biographical information on collectors whose artworks were lost as a result of Nazi persecution; and highlights artworks recovered with the assistance of the HCPO. The site also contains a database of claims of lost artwork reported to HCPO to serve as a resource in returning those pieces to their rightful owners.
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 $171 million in assets to victims’ families while also recovering 101 works of art.