Germany restitutes medieval painting stolen by Nazis to rightful heirs

Written by on April 27, 2021

Germany has returned a painting that was stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners: The heirs of A. S. Drey, several art websites reported Monday. 

The Bavarian State Painting Collections, which manages art collections in museums throughout the German State of Bavaria, has restituted a ca. 1480 painting to the collective heirs of a prominent Jewish art dealer that owned a gallery in Munich during World World II. 

The painting, which depicts St. Florian of Lorch, also known as the patron saint of Linz, Austria, was restituted to the heirs of A. S. Drey, a Jewish art dealership that operated in Munich and New York throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

— Public Art Magazine (@PublicArtMag) August 18, 2020

The painting is believed to have been created in a Bavarian workshop during the 15th century, though the artist behind it remains unknown. The painting was originally part of a medieval altarpiece collection, according to the reports, meaning that it was used to decorate the space above the altar in a christian church. We know today that many altarpiece works of art from that era were not attributed to their creators, which may explain its unknown origins.  

The painting was seized by the Nazi regime in 1935, when the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts informed art dealers at the Munich National Art Gallery that the gallery was going to be dissolved and that they would need to pay extensive sums of money in taxes as a result, practically forcing them to concede paintings and pieces of art in their possession, according to several art news websites.

The A. S. Drey gallery included several partners, all of whom were Jewish, according to ArtNet.  

“We are grateful to the Bavarian State Painting Collections for carefully investigating the provenance of the painting and for establishing contact,”  lawyer Imke Gielen, who is representing the heirs, told ArtNet. 

“The restitution is also the result of the continuous, systematic research carried out by the Bavarian State Painting Collections on their holdings,” he added. 

“With the restitution of the Gothic wooden panel to the legal community of heirs, the great injustice that the Drey and Stern families had to suffer under the Nazis has been officially recognized and a step taken towards making amends,” Bavarian State Minister of the Arts Bernd Sibler said in a statement. 

Sibler has played a major role in promoting the restitution of artwork and items stolen by the Nazi regime during World World II, including priceless paintings and ceremonial items.

Restitution von Naziraubgut an die Eigentümer. Wir stellen uns der historischen Verantwortung. Rechtsnachfolger sind aus Saarbrücken, Virginia und Taiwan angereist. Gerechtigkeit und Wunden heilen!

Posted by Bernd Sibler on Monday, 13 January 2020

In 2019, Sibler led the initiative of returning nine works of art to descendants of a Jewish couple, more than 80 years after Nazis stole the paintings, casts and engravings.

Commenting on the biggest challenge of leading the effort of restituting artwork stolen during the Holocaust was finding the rightful heirs to the various works scattered across Germany. 

“Because of the Holocaust, there were no children, and then it was a question of who is entitled to inherit the art. These were difficult legal disputes,” he said at the time. 

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