Wanted: buyer for Hitler’s statue

A sculpture by Fritz Röll, once owned by the Führer, was rejected by Sotheby’s but is now being offered by a private dealer

LONDON. A sculpture bought by Hitler in 1939 was offered

for sale by London dealer Simon Wingett for £150,000 ($233,000) last month. The marble work, by Fritz Röll (1879-1956), was to have been sold at Sotheby’s in 2004, but was withdrawn when the auction house discovered it had been owned by Hitler.

Hitler visited the pro-Nazi Great German Art Exhibition in Munich in 1939, and decided to buy the idealised, near-life size naked figure tying its sandals. The work, made sometime between 1910 and 1914, is regarded as Röll’s masterpiece. What happened to the sculpture after Hitler’s death is un­known.

The sculpture was recently consigned to Sotheby’s, and was offered at their Sussex saleroom in a sale of garden statuary on 28 September 2004 (lot 287).

Although identified in the catalogue as a Röll, the work’s original title (Sandalenbind­er) was not given and it was described simply as a Naked Classical Athlete. The estimate was £8,000-£12,000.

Shortly before the sale, Sotheby’s was contacted by a descendant of the sculptor in Germany, who pointed out that it was the long-lost work which had once belonged to Hitler. The auctioneers decided that it would be unwise to sell the piece and it was withdrawn on the eve of the auction.

Sotheby’s then put several potential bidders in touch with the consignor, a minor dealer in the Czech Republic. Shortly afterwards the Röll was bought by UK conservator and part-time dealer Imogen Paine, along with two colleagues. Earlier this year they asked Wrexham dealer Simon Wingett to sell it, and it was the highlight of his stand at the Olympia International Art & Antiques fair in June and the Lapada fair the previous month. The work was priced at around £150,000 ($295,000) and did not sell at Olympia.

The post-war whereabouts of the sculpture remain a mystery. All that is known is that the Czech dealer had acquired it from a fellow countryman who had lived in Vienna.

The statue’s status is not entirely clear. At the time of Hitler’s suicide in Berlin in 1945, his official place of residence was Munich. Arguably this means that his estate passed to the government of Bavaria. Nevertheless, there has been no claim on the Röll, so it can presumably be sold freely on the open market. The sculpture was bought by the UK owners in good faith, after due diligence.

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