Archive
Restitution

British Museum Old Master drawings subject to restitution claim

Four drawings are being claimed by the heir of a Nazism victim

The British Museum (BM) trustees will later this month examine a claim to four Old Master drawings said to have been looted during the Nazi period. These are by the Martin Schongauer (circle of), Nicolò dell’Abbate, Nicholas Blakey and Martin Schmidt. The claim is from the grandson of Dr Arthur Feldmann, from Czechoslovakia, who is believed to have owned the drawings in the 1930s.

Dr Feldmann, a Brno lawyer, had built up a collection of 700 Old Master drawings. The Gestapo raided his home on 15 March 1939, when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Mr Feldmann was executed two years later and property not already seized was then confiscated. These remaining drawings were sold off by the German administration and purchased by the Moravian Gallery in Brno. At some point a number of other Feldmann drawings appear to have passed to his son, Karl, who “donated” them to the Brno gallery in exchange for a licence to export other property abroad.

Michaela Hajkova, art curator of Prague’s Jewish Museum, told The Art Newspaper that she believes the Feldmann disposals were “made under duress” and should now be regarded as illegal.

Dr Feldmann’s wife, Gisela, was later sent to Auschwitz, where she perished. The couple are survived by a grandson, Uri Peled. It is he who is making a restitution claim for the BM drawings, through the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe. Mr Peled was named as the Feldmann heir by Ronald Lauder, chairman of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in his address to the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998.

Three of the four BM drawings were bought by the museum in late 1946 for nine guineas from London dealer Colnaghi, which in turn had acquired them at Sotheby’s on 16 October. These were the Holy Family by Abbate, “Design for a book illustration” by Blakey and a Madonna and Child by Schmidt.

The drawing of St Dorothy and the Christ Child from the circle of Martin Schongauer was bequeathed to the BM in 1949 by Campbell Dodgson, a former Keeper of Prints and Drawings. Art historian Otto Benesch records it as in the Feldmann collection in 1936.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'British Museum drawings under scrutiny'