The World Jewish Congress’s Commission for Art Recovery restitutes works from museums in Hanover and Leipzig

Does this mark a change of direction for initiative, which previously only recorded losses?


The World Jewish Congress’s Commission for Art Recovery (CAR), the Nazi-war loot investigative agency, created and chaired by Ronald S. Lauder, former US ambassador to Austria, has recovered more than 80 works of art from the Kirstein Collection which had been confiscated by the Nazis. The works were in the museums of the cities of Hanover and Leipzig.

The works of art were collected by Dr Gustav Kirstein, an art lover, collector and patron of contemporary artists. Kirstein married Therese Clara Stein by whom he had two daughters, Marianne and Gabrielle. Dr Kirstein died in 1934. When Clara tried to leave Germany in 1939, she was detained by the Gestapo, who seized her passport, and she committed suicide. His two daughters were able to flee Germany and survived the war. The collection was dispersed through forced sales. There are five Kirstein heirs, four of whom live in the US and one in Germany.

The Sprengel Museum in Hanover voted unanimously in June to return the Lovis Corinth’s painting, “Walchensee, Johannisnacht” (“The Walchensee on St John’s eve”), but negotiations with the Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig proved more difficult. The museum wanted to buy back the works at prices lower than the appraised values. The commission appealed to Michael Naumann, the German minister of culture, and to Wolfgang Tiefensee, mayor of Leipzig, to expedite the process. The museum finally agreed to return Max Klinger’s 1892 painting “Die Lautenspielerin” (“The lute player”), 39 Klinger drawings, and a number of other works.

After the works of art from Leipzig have been appraised, the commission will consider the museum’s proposals. The Corinth was be auctioned by Sotheby’s London last week and the proceeds divided among the heirs.

The action of the CAR, which has hitherto has aimed at collecting information and compiling a database of losses, may indicate a change of strategy to the pursuit of individual claims. Last year the CAR supported Martha Nierenberg in reclaiming the Herzog Collection and, in 1999, it traced a Cranach, looted from the Gomperz Collection, to the North Carolina Museum of Art and ensured its return to two elderly sisters, grandnieces of Philipp von Gomperz.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Change of direction for Lauder initiative?'