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By Karen Herland
For the second time in as many weeks, the university beneficiaries of the Max Stern Estate (including Concordia) can announce the recovery of a painting that the German-Jewish gallery owner had been forced to sell by the Nazis in 1937.
St. Jerome, by Italian Baroque artist Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), is an important canvas that has been in the collections of European nobility and was once copied by famed British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. The 400-year-old painting was among several hundred works that Lempertz auction house sold in an effort to liquidate the business Stern’s family had built since the early 1900s.
The American government’s enforcement of a recent Court of Appeals decision, in favour of the universities, confirmed that such forced sales of property were equivalent to looting and anything sold under those terms should be considered stolen.
New York art dealer Richard L. Feigen returned the Carracci he had in his possession after hearing the U.S. Department of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) had returned the Dutch Old Master work, Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe, on Holocaust Remembrance Day at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Feigen, who acquired St. Jerome when it was re-offered by Lempertz in 2000, like the dealer in possession of the bagpiper portrait, had been unaware of the painting’s provenance. “It was as a result of the media coverage on the bagpiper painting that I made the connection between the Carracci and its forced sale in 1937. There was no question in my mind as to how to proceed,” Feigen said.
“The various federal and state agencies involved in these recoveries should be commended for their exemplary efforts. So too should the efforts of art dealers like Mr Feigen. Wrongful acts committed during the Nazi period should not go unchallenged,” said Clarence Epstein, Concordia’s Director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs who heads the Max Stern Art Restitution Project. “That government agencies and dealers are implicated in these recent recoveries is far-reaching. We are confident that it will have a trickle-down effect”.
Stern died in Montreal in 1987, with many of those paintings still scattered across the world. He left his estate to Concordia, McGill and Hebrew University/Jerusalem. Concordia has played a leading role in pursuing the paintings that remain unaccounted for.