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Heirs sue to claim Mondrian painting from Philadelphia Museum of Art

But after the Nazis came to power, “Composition With Blue” was confiscated as “degenerate” in the ruthless purge of modern art of German museums orchestrated by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. More than 20,000 works were seized from around 100 museums and stored in a wheat silo in Berlin. “Composition With Blue” still bears the inventory sticker identifying it as “entartete Kunst”, or degenerate art.

Deemed by the Nazis to be marketable abroad, the painting was later given to Karl Buchholz, one of a select group of art dealers appointed by Adolf Hitler to sell “degenerate” works to foreign buyers. . Buchholz sent it to his New York-based business partner, Curt Valentin, to sell in the United States.

Among the potential clients Valentin contacted was Alexander Dorner, the former director of the Hanover museum, who had fled the Nazis and headed the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Dorner was keen to buy the works that had been confiscated from the museum he once ran. But he admitted that “Composition With Blue” belonged, not to the museum, but to a private person and he refused, according to research carried out for the heirs by Gunnar Schnabel, a German lawyer, and Monika Tatzkow, a researcher from origin.

Valentin then sold it to Albert E. Gallatin, a New York collector, in 1939. Gallatin appears to have believed the painting belonged to the Hannover museum before it was seized. In the face of public criticism from American collectors who purchased works of art confiscated from German museums, he was quoted in the New York Times on October 29, 1939, as saying that if the Nazis were ever ousted, “it is proposed to restore these paintings, if their return is desired, in the museums where they once hung.

Mondrian, who left Paris in 1938, before World War II broke out, ended up in New York, where Gallatin lived. In December 1939 he wrote to Gallatin, saying, “I was very glad to hear of the exhibition you have arranged of my work, and that my picture of Hanover is so well placed now.” He then agreed to restore the painting for Gallatin – evidence, according to Rub at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that Mondrian acknowledged and accepted Gallatin’s ownership.

The heirs, however, argue that while World War II was still raging, Mondrian did not realize that he retained a valid claim to property seized by the Nazis, perhaps because he assumed to wrong that the expropriations by the German government in power were legal. In fact, according to the heirs, even under Nazi law the confiscation of works of art from non-German individuals was prohibited.