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Nazi-Looted Artwork Fuels Dispute Between City of Düsseldorf and Heirs of Jewish Collector

DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY—The family of Kurt Grawi, a Jewish investment banker and art collector who fled Germany due to the Nazis, has yet to hear from Düsseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast as to whether a painting from its collection that once belonged to Grawi, Franz Marc’s The Fox, 1913, will be returned to his heirs, reports Catherine Hickley of the Art Newspaper.

A number of Grawi’s pieces were sold at a so-called “Jew auction” in Berlin in 1937, organized by the auction house Leo Spik. Marc’s work was not among those sold at Spik, though it seems to have remained in Grawi’s hands at least until that year. The painting then showed up in the United States at Karl Nierendorf’s gallery in 1939. The Düsseldorf museum has researched the work’s provenance, yet it still cannot ascertain who sold the painting, or when and where the transaction took place. Grawi’s family feels that those details should not impede its return. “My husband's family had to sell everything of value in Nazi Germany in order to pay for the discriminatory and confiscatory charges on Jews and for the costs of their emigration,” said Ingeburg Breit, Grawi’s daughter-in-law, who is almost ninety. “That is how the painting was lost.”

Grawi’s heirs say the painting could only have been sold under duress—but Jasmin Hartmann, a Düsseldorf provenance researcher, says the sale could have happened in the US. Grawi’s family claims that Düsseldorf is dragging its feet on the restitution, but Hartmann says otherwise: “We can’t just give it back. There is too much that remains unclear.” Düsseldorf wants to bring the case to Germany’s Advisory Commission, which mediates conflicts over artworks confiscated by the Nazis. The family, however, thinks that move would be a waste of time and would merely complicate what they see as a straightforward case.

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December 21, 2017