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The Lubomirski Dürers: where are they now?

The Art Newspaper has tracked down twenty-four of the drawings looted by Hitler and sold by the prince whose ancestors had donated them to their local museum

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Following last month’s investigation into the Dürer drawings which were looted by Hitler from a museum in Lviv (then in Poland and now part of Ukraine), The Art Newspaper has tracked down the locations of the twenty-four works. The Dürers were secretly handed over by the Americans after the war to Prince Georg Lubomirski, who then sold them in the West.

Fourteen of the finest drawings are in public collections, which are now likely to face calls for their restitution. We contacted the galleries and museums for their comments and most were helpful in explaining how the works had been acquired, stressing that they (and the dealers through which they had bought them) had acted “in good faith”. But although it was known that the Dürers had been at the Lubomirski Museum until the war, surprisingly few efforts seem to have been made by the new owners to investigate the circumstances of the removal of the drawings from Lviv.

There are four Lviv Dürers in European public collections. The Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam bought “Horse in profile” and “Madonna” at a London auction in 1955. Its chief curator, Abraham Meij, told us that although both drawings had been in the Lviv museum, they were “owned by the Lubomirski family” when they were acquired.

Professor Richard Verdi, director of the Barber Institute in Birmingham, said that “Man with oar” had been bought “in good faith” in 1954 from Colnaghi’s. “We would have to know much more about the legal situation before we even considered restitution”, he said.

The Courtauld Institute Galleries’ “Emperors Charlemagne and Sigismund” was bequeathed with the collection of Count Antoine Seilern in 1978. Seilern had bought the Dürer from Prince Lubomirski in 1954 (not, as The Sunday Times recently stated, in the 1930s in Austria).

The National Gallery of Canada purchased “Nude woman” from Colnaghi’s in 1956 for £6,000. Last month the gallery released part of an internal 1952 memo from curator Kathleen Fenwick in which she explained that the Dürers were “formerly in the family museum of the Lubomirski family of Lemberg”. Fenwick added that the drawings had been “got into Switzerland out of the Russian zone of Berlin, where they were recovered at the end of the war, after being restored to the original owner, Prince Georg Lubomirski”.

There are nine Lviv Dürers in American public collections. The Art Institute of Chicago’s “Young bull” was bought in 1965 from collector Richard S. Davis, who had acquired it in the early 1950s from the Paul Drey Gallery in New York.

The Nelson-Atkins museum of Art in Kansas City bought “Head of a roebuck” in 1953 from Paul Drey. According to Roger Ward, curator of European Art, “the museum trustees of the day must have been satisfied that he either owned the drawing outright or was acting in good faith on behalf of an owner who claimed fair title”. Ward added: “I am unable to make any helpful comment on the circumstances of the drawing before World War II or how it came to be in Mr Drey’s possession”.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has three Dürers from Lviv, the “Self portrait” of 1493, “Fortuna” and “The Holy Family in a trellis”. All were presented by Robert Lehman as part of his magnificent collection in 1975.

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Dead Christ” and “Ascension of Christ” were acquired in 1952. An article published three years later in the museum’s bulletin reported that the drawings had been at “the Lubomirski Museum, Lemberg, which until the last war formed part of the Ossolinski National Institute”. It then added: “The depredations of the Nazi invasion of Poland in the last war dispersed these collections at Lemberg; and the rediscovery of the Dürer drawings in a salt mine after the war led in due course to their return to a lineal descendant of the original owner and their eventual sale”.

The Boston Museum of Fine Art’s “Reclining youth” was purchased in 1959 from Colnaghi’s. The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York was given “The pelican in her piety” by an anonymous trustee in 1977.

Ten other Lviv Dürers are in private collections. Three are in London (“Head of a child”, “Seated Madonna” and “The abduction of Europa”), one in Wiltshire (“Nude woman with mirror”), two in Nuremberg (“Nude man holding a disc” and “Nude man with lion”), one in Montreal (“The Holy Family”), two in New York (“Samson” and “The Madonna in a hall”) and one in an unknown location (drapery study).

Both Poland and the Ukraine are now expected to press claims for the Dürers. The Polish claim is based on the fact that the city was part of Poland until World War II and the Ossolinski Institute, of which the Lubomirski Museum was a part, moved to Wroctlaw in 1946. The independent Ukraine, which now includes Lviv, is also likely to make a claim. However, the public collections and private owners of the Lviv Dürers will argue that the American authorities handed over the drawings to Prince Georg Lubomirski in 1948 and they therefore acquired them legitimately.

o Albrecht Dürer’s “Rosenkrantzfest” altarpiece of 1506 is to remain in the Prague National Gallery. A Prague law court recently endorsed the legal ownership of the gallery in the face of a claim from the Premonstratensian order who had sold it to the Czech State in 1937 for 3 million crowns.

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