German City of Dusseldorf Restitutes to Heirs of Jewish Gallery Owner Portrait From Mayor’s Office
by Shiryn Ghermezian
The German city of Dusseldorf announced last week that it settled a long-standing dispute regarding a portrait in the city’s possession that once belonged to a Jewish gallery owner who was forced to sell his art collection and flee Nazi Germany.
As part of a settlement agreement between the city and the Dr. Max and Iris Stern Foundation, Wilhelm von Schadow’s painting The Artist’s Children (1830) will remain in the city’s collection but will be purchased from the heirs of Max Stern for an undisclosed sum. The portrait will be displayed inside the Kunstpalast museum starting in mid-August and the agreement was decided upon even though certain information about the painting’s provenance remain unclear despite research efforts.
“I am glad that with this fair and just solution, this important painting remains in Dusseldorf,” said Dusseldorf Mayor Stephan Keller.
Julius Stern had been an art dealer in Düsseldorf since 1913 and opened a gallery in the city in 1917. His son Max Stern took over the business after Julius died in 1934 but facing persecution by the Nazi regime, Max was forced to give up the business in 1937 and auction off a large part of the gallery’s art collection, according to the city. Max and his family later flee Nazi Germany, after facing substantial economic losses, and moved to Canada.
Max died in 1987 and having no children, he left majority of his estate to the universities Concordia and McGill in Montreal and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, according to The Art Newspaper. The publication added that his estate launched the Max Stern Art Restitution Project in 2002 in an effort to get back the art he once owned.
In 1931, the Portrait of the Artist’s Children was on loan from an art dealer, likely Julius Stern, to be on display as part of an exhibition, the city of Dusseldorf said. In 1937, the portrait was reproduced for an illustrated book about children’s paintings and the Stern gallery provided the photo template and printing permit for the reproduction. However, Düsseldorf said it was “not possible to determine who owned the painting at the time.”
In 1959, the city of Dusseldorf acquired The Artist’s Children from a private collection and it hung in the mayor’s office in the town hall until 1977, when it was then transferred to the Kunstpalast museum.
Dusseldorf initially rejected a claim by the Dr. Max and Iris Stern Foundation years ago about the portrait’s restitution, saying there was no evidence indicating that Nazi persecution had anything to do with the artwork no longer being in the family’s possession, according to The Art Newspaper.
The agreement announced last week follows a 2013 restitution to the Dr. Max and Iris Stern Foundation by the city of Düsseldorf regarding Self-Portrait of the Artist, also by Wilhelm von Schadow, which is now on loan from the foundation in the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf museum.