Amsterdam Museum to Return a Matisse Work Sold Under Duress in World War II - NEWS (2024)

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam says it will return an Henri Matisse painting that has been in its collection since 1941 to the heirs of its former owner, a German-Jewish textile manufacturer and art patron who sold it to fund his family’s escape of the Netherlands’ Nazi occupation.

The museum announced the return of the work, “Odalisque,” on Tuesday after the Amsterdam City Council received “binding advice” from the Dutch Restitutions Commission, a government committee that rules on cases of Nazi-looted art.

The heirs said in a statement that the decision provided symbolic justice. “The Matisse underwent the same journey from Berlin to Amsterdam as our grandparents,” they said. “But it stopped there in the Stedelijk, with almost no acknowledgment from whence it came for 80 years.”

Before World War II, Matisse’s “Odalisque,” dated 1920-21, was part of the private art collection of Albert and Marie Stern. Albert and his brother Siegbert had helped establish a leading Berlin womenswear company in the 19th century. Albert and Marie were patrons of the arts and regularly hosted art and music events at their Berlin home. Marie, who had studied art, assembled a collection that also included works by Vincent van Gogh and Edward Munch.

After the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1933, the Sterns suffered several antisemitic blows. The state expropriated their business and stole many of their assets and possessions, and the family was threatened with physical violence, said Anne Webber, the founder and co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which handled the restitution claim.

In 1937, according to the Commission, the couple moved to Amsterdam, taking along some of their possessions, while applying for visas to countries including Cuba, Mexico and the United States, ultimately unsuccessfully. By July 1941, the family had little food, and sold everything they had left in the hopes of escaping Europe.

The Matisse was sold in 1941 to the Stedelijk through a family friend. Shortly afterward, the entire Stern family was arrested and sent to concentration camps, where Albert’s twin sister, the couple’s two grown sons and many other family members were murdered.

The couple’s grandchildren, ages 5 and 16 months, were sent to Theresienstadt camp in what is now the Czech Republic but managed to survive, according to the Commission. Marie, who was sent to Liebenau camp in Germany, also survived the war, but Albert was killed in Laufen Castle internment camp.

“The unrelenting pressure they experienced from the Nazis, and the pressure that they faced, the looming threat to their lives, was very powerful,” Webber said in an interview.

“They were physically threatened over a period of many months,” she added. “We did a huge amount of research and found a remarkable number of documents in some 26 different archives that tell this story.”

Toon van Mierlo, the chair of the Restitutions Commission, said the evidence of a forced sale in this case was highly compelling.

“The circ*mstances in which Albert Stern lived in Amsterdam, after he fled Germany, were horrible, terrible,” he said. “He did his utmost to get his family to safety in good order, but he could not, and finally he died at the end of the war.”

Of the Matisse restitution, van Mierlo said, “My feeling is that justice has been done.”

Matisse’s “Odalisque” hangs in the museum’s permanent collection display, next to other odalisques — or reclining nudes — painted in the same period by Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky.

“We don’t have many Matisses, so it’s an important work,” said Rein Wolfs, the Stedelijk Museum’s director, “which shows the importance of Orientalism in French painting.”

He declined to estimate the work’s monetary value, but he said its personal history outweighed financial considerations.

“It’s very important that we are able to restitute this work,” Wolfs said. “It doesn’t repair what took place during the wartime, but at least some justice can be done, so many years later.”

The city of Amsterdam, the Matisse’s official owner, is expected to hand the work over to Stern’s family members before the end of the year, a Stedelijk spokeswoman said.

“The return of works of art, such as the Odalisque painting, can mean a lot to the victims and is of great importance for the recognition of the injustice done to them,” Amsterdam’s alderwoman for culture, Touria Meliani, said in a statement. “As a city we have a role and responsibility in this.”

Amsterdam Museum to Return a Matisse Work Sold Under Duress in World War II - NEWS (2024)


Amsterdam Museum to Return a Matisse Work Sold Under Duress in World War II - NEWS? ›

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam says it will return an Henri Matisse painting that has been in its collection since 1941 to the heirs of its former owner, a German-Jewish textile manufacturer and art patron who sold it to fund his family's escape of the Netherlands' Nazi occupation.

Where was Matisse during ww2? ›

Matisse remained, for the most part, isolated in southern France throughout the war, but his family was intimately involved with the French resistance. His son Pierre, the art dealer in New York, helped the Jewish and anti-Nazi French artists he represented to escape occupied France and enter the United States.

Which painting by whom was upside down in NY Museum of Modern Art until a student found the error? ›

Bateau' was hung upside down at New York's. Museum of Modern Art for 46 days before anyone. noticed.

What happened to Matisse in 1941? ›

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) "Fauvisme", radically changed as for 1941, when he endured a severe surgery due to intestinal cancer. The resulting wound got necrosis, leading to a deficit at his abdominal muscles that impeached him to remain standing and paint.

What happened to art during ww2? ›

Jews were targeted, and their art collections confiscated. Some of this consisted of modern, degenerate art which was partly destroyed, although some was sold on the international art market. Masterpieces of European art were taken from these collectors and French museums and were sent to Germany.

What artist painting hung upside down? ›

Piet Mondrian, “New York City 1” (1941)

But since the fragility of the coloured adhesive strips makes it too risky to turn the work, it remains “upside-down” in their current exhibition. Piet Mondrian "New York City 1 (1941)" was hung the wrong way round in Düsseldorf.

Which of these artists created a piece that was accidentally hung upside down by the Museum of Modern Art? ›

This Day in History: The Museum of Modern Art Hung a Matisse Upside Down and No One Noticed. An eagle-eyed visitor discovered the error. Henri Matisse, Le Bateau (1953).

Which artist claimed that turning his paintings upside down allowed the viewer to focus on the expressive surface? ›

Within the international (non) movement referred to as “neo-expressionism,” Baselitz was among the few who were actually reconsidering German Expressionist approaches to painting; he was also “the one who turns his paintings upside down.” His inversion of his subjects set him apart, but without context or a clear sense ...

Who were the painters in Germany during ww2? ›

After 1939, Luitpold Adam was the head of the German military's Division of Visual Arts, which would expand to include 80 soldier-artists.
  • Luitpold Adam.
  • Herbert Agricola.
  • Heinrich Amersdorffer.
  • Elk Eber.
  • Fritz Erler.
  • Franz Eichhorst.
  • Rudolf Hergstenberg.
  • Conrad Hommel.

Did Henri Matisse fight in ww1? ›

That very year, the First World War broke out in Europe, and Matisse was desperate to enlist. He bought himself soldier's boots and took a medical exam but was rejected from serving due to a weak heart.

Was there trench art in ww2? ›

Although the practice flourished during World War I, the term 'trench art' is also used to describe souvenirs manufactured by service personnel during World War II. Some items manufactured by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians during earlier conflicts have been retrospectively described as trench art.

Where were paintings stored during ww2? ›

Some paintings were stored at Penrhyn Castle, North Wales. In order to protect them from the expected London Blitz, the vast majority went to Wales. They were distributed to various locations: The University of North Wales at Bangor.


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