Stolen Art Finally Returned and Profits Descendants
This is another example of art that the Nazi’s stole from its rightful owners.
In this case, it is a scene of two gentlemen riding on horseback along the coast.
The painting was long lost. Finally discovered by German tax investigators in the home of the son of the infamous art dealer, Hildebrand Gurlitt.
Read more about this incredible story of art, intrigue and retribution:
Peter J. Toren grew up in New York City and now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and daughter.
On a warm, humid June evening on Regent Street in London, among the fanciest stores in the world, the international art auction house, Sotheby’s, auctioned the Max Liebermann painting Two Riders on a Beach, for many times the pre-sale estimate to an unknown buyer. The painting, a 1901 scene of two elegantly dressed men riding chestnut horses with the surf breaking behind them, belonged to my great great uncle David Friedmann, and was stolen from him by the Nazis.
German tax investigators found the painting in the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of the infamous art dealer to the Nazis, Hildebrand Gurlitt. Two Riders was part of a 1,200-work trove that was found in Gurlitt’s home in Munich, which included some invaluable pieces that had been stored in tomato crates. While a number of the other works were likely also stolen from Jewish owners, the German government has only returned one painting to its rightful Jewish owner other than Two Riders.
My father and his brother were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust and as a child of a survivor, I grew up listening to my father tell me stories of my family’s German history and the connection to David Friedmann. My grandfather was a prominent lawyer in Breslau. On November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, when Jewish stores and businesses were looted, and Jews were beaten and killed, my grandfather was required to assist Friedmann in “selling” some of his property to the Nazi General Ewald von Kleist.
My father and his mother went to Friedmann’s home to bring my grandfather warm clothing because they knew after the completion of the sale that he would be sent to a concentration camp. The Nazis gassed my grandmother and grandfather in Auschwitz in 1943. While my grandfather worked on completing the forced sale of the Friedman property to the Nazi general, my father sat in a room staring at Two Riders. This was the last time he saw the painting. By the time it was finally returned to us last month, 77 years later, he couldn’t see it, having been blind for the past decade.
We never gave up looking for my family’s looted art, but never expected that we would recover any works.
Approximately 18 months after seizing the Gurlitt collection, and only after being “outed” by a German investigative magazine, German authorities held a November 2013, press conference in Munich, at which they announced the seizure of 1,200 works of art from Gurlitt’s apartment. Despite the letter and other evidence of ownership, it still took the German government over one year to return the work to my family. Because my father was not the only heir, unfortunately, we had to sell Two Riders.
Two Riders has meant so much more to me than simply its sale. It allowed me to reclaim part of my family’s history stolen by the Nazis. I learned things that I had never known including more about my father’s courage to succeed in the face of all odds. I now understand to the extent possible, what it meant to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. We have only begun, but will continue to search for other stolen David Friedmann paintings, however long it takes.
The power of art and how much it means to the people who love it goes beyond any monetary value.
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