In April 1933, the Nazi authorities removed Kurt Glaser as director of the Berlin State Art Library because he was Jewish. He was also evicted from his home and the following month, he sold most of his art collection in two auctions.
Since 2007, 13 private collectors or institutions – including the Dutch Restoration Committee, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the city of Basel – have concluded that Glaser sold his collection as a result of the Nazi persecution in May 1933. gave. , and agreed to return the art to his heirs or to pay some compensation, he sold that wound in his collection.
But the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, have repeatedly denied the claims of the heirs to the painting sold at the same auction. They argue that there is not enough evidence that Glaser sold under pressure.
The disparity in decisions highlights that 76 years after World War II ended, the criteria for determining whether a work of art should be returned during the Nazi persecution of Jews is still a matter of debate. made up.
The Met and the Museum of Fine Arts both have records of recognizing claims on art sold under pressure. The Met has settled eight claims of art looted or sold under pressure by the Nazis since 1998, when the United States endorsed the International Washington Principles, which called for “just and fair” handling of looted art claims. called for a solution. In 2009, the Terezin Declaration, approved by the United States, specified that this requirement also applies to sales under pressure. The Fine Arts Museum has earlier settled the claims of the heirs of 13 items sold under pressure.
But in the case of two works sold at auction on May 9, 1933—Abraham Bloemert’s 1596 painting “Mouse Striking the Rock”, owned by the Met, and Joachim Anthony Wetwell’s “Actaeon Watching Diana and Her Nymphs Bathing” The museums have taken a position at odds with other institutions that had produced Glaser’s work from that sale – which has been owned by the Museum of Fine Arts since 1612.
For example, the Dutch Restoration Committee returned a painting to the Glaser heirs in 2010, determining that the sale of the work at the May 9 auction could be considered “involuntary.” The committee concluded that it was “likely that Glaser was not able to independently dispose of the proceeds from the auctions” but that “he may have had to use the funds to escape to the United States.”
Glaser fled Germany two months after the sale. He died in 1943 in New York.
The complexities in evaluating art sales more than 80 years after the fact differing views may emerge. “It can be very difficult to determine whether sales were under pressure,” says Friedrich von Brühl, a Berlin-based lawyer specializing in art law. “In practice, we’re looking at several criteria: Was the purchase price adequate? Was the seller free to spend the proceeds? When did the sale actually take place?”
For Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer and former chairman of the New York-based Art Recovery Commission, the situation highlights the limited state support for claimants in the US. “In Europe, it is often the Ministry of Culture or a commission that makes the decision,” she said. . “In the US, it’s all private. The current owner is the decision maker. Museums are free to dispute or contest claims and have no one to tell them it’s false. For many claimants, lawsuits are extremely costly, especially for works of little value.”
The Met believes Glaser did not sell under the pressure. A spokesperson for the museum wrote in an email, “After years of careful research and consideration, the museum stands by its claim that ‘Moses Striking the Rock’ was not unlawfully appropriated, and belongs to the Met. is.”
The MFA said in an emailed statement that “there is no dispute that Kurt Glaser lost his position at the Kunstbibliothek and his accompanying residence because of racial harassment.” However, it was argued that his decision to sell the art may have been influenced by his personal life as well. Glaser’s first wife, with whom he composed the collection, died in 1932.
“There is nothing to indicate that Glaser did not or could not have received the proceeds from the auction, nor was he under financial pressure,” the museum said. The price paid for Wtewael was “reasonable and consistent for other Dutch Mannerist paintings,” it said.
In an earlier claim, the United Kingdom’s Sponsorship Advisory Panel ruled against restoring eight drawings to the heirs in 2009. It said Glaser’s decision to sell the works was informed by a number of factors and that the price he received was reasonable.
Born in Leipzig in 1879, Glaser began his career as an art critic, became a buyer for the Royal Gallery of Prints in Berlin, and in 1924 was appointed director of the city’s Kunstbibliothek, or art library. At the regular Monday Art Salon, he and his wife entertained artists and intellectuals in their 1920s apartment. He counted Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner among his friends.
But when Adolf Hitler’s government passed a law to remove Jews and political opponents from the civil service in 1933, Glaser was forced from his post and most of his art collection, library and furnishings were auctioned off. . The first sale, held at the International Kunst- und Auctions-Haus on May 9, 1933, was followed by a second, two-day sale on May 18 and 19 at the Max Pearl auction house in Berlin. The market was sad. Curator Otto Fischer said in a report to the Basel Art Commission about his acquisition at the second auction that prices were “not exactly rock-bottom” but “low”.
In 2020, the city of Basela, nearly 12 years after the Glaser heirs’ claim was rejected agreed to pay them an undisclosed amount Based on the review of the case. In turn, the city’s Kunstmuseum produced works by artists including Munch, Kirchner, Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Auguste Rodin and Marc Chagall on an estimated $2 million worth of paper.
The city said that Glaser “held an exposed position at the time of the National Socialists’ seizing of power and was the target of an unjust regime.” The persecution he faced was “caused by Kurt Glaser’s emigration and on 18–19 May 1933 a large part of his artworks were auctioned off.” But unlike the Dutch position, it argued that a full restoration “is not a suitable solution” because “it would be too one-sided.”
Both American museums offered to label the works to acknowledge Glaser’s contribution to art history. In a letter to a lawyer for the family this year, the Met said its label would also recognize that Glaser “lost his position because of the anti-Semitic policies of the newly elected Nazi government.” However, it added that the label would state that sales of their collection “can be attributed to both the political situation in Germany and to personal factors.”
Glaser’s family rejected the suggestion that the death of his wife had prompted them to sell. The Met and the MFA are “putting up a counterexample and wanting to argue about Glaser’s psychology on a speculative basis rather than talking about material facts and historical circumstances for all Jews at the time,” says Paul Levant, Glaser’s nephew and one of his heirs said.
David Rowland, the New York attorney who represents the Glaser heirs, agreed, describing the situation as “restoration roulette”—the more likely success is where the art has landed on the merits of his case. , They said.
“How is it that the Dutch, Swiss and Germans found that the sale was made under pressure, but the Met and the MFA did not?” He asked. “A physical seizure by the Nazis is not necessary to apply the Washington Principles and is to be warranted for a ‘just and fair’ solution.”