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An 18th century view of Venice, taken by the Nazis, heads to auction

June 7, 2017

Michele Marieschi (1710 – 1743)
La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore 1739-40.
Oil on canvas.
Estimate: £500,000–700,000.

A view of Venice by the 18th century Venetian painter Michele Marieschi, which had been confiscated by the Nazis and the subject of a 70-year recovery effort, will be featured in Sotheby’s London Old Master Evening Sale on July 5, 2017. It’s a reminder that restitution of artwork and other property looted, confiscated or otherwise appropriated by the Nazis is an ongoing issue.

While the painting is not a masterpiece within Marieschi’s cannon, it’s history in the 20th century is extraordinary according to an announcement from Sotheby’s:

Originally acquired by Heinrich (Heinz) and Anna Maria (Anny) Graf in 1937, the painting hung in the family’s Vienna apartment – a highlight of their small but refined collection. In March 1938, the family’s lives were upended with the German annexation of Austria. Ousted from his job and under threat from the growing tensions under a dictatorial regime, Heinz and his young family were forced to flee their home. In anticipation of the forced emigration, which by then had become so commonplace in Vienna, all of the Graf’s possessions were put into storage, to be forwarded once the family settled into a new home. Having paid the substantial ‘exit tax’ demanded by the Germans, the Grafs made their way first to Italy, and then several months later to France, where they were joined by their two grandmothers in Quillan, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinz was confined to the notorious Camp Gurs in Southwest France – where Jews of non-French nationality were interned. Anny worked desperately to secure her husband’s release (she too was interned for a brief period), finally managing to obtain visas for the United States for all but one member of the family. Required by the terms of his Gurs camp release to leave the country immediately, Heinz was forced to leave his family behind and travel to the safety of Portugal alone. The family eventually reunited in Lisbon months later, sailing together to the United States and reaching New York on 26 May 1941.

Settling in Queens, the family rebuilt their lives, with Heinz, now ‘Henry’, finding employment again as an investment banker. Attempting to recover the belongings that they had placed in storage, Henry and Anny undertook extensive correspondence with the United States occupation forces in Germany, but to no avail. It later came to light that their possessions, including this Marieschi painting and portraits of Anny’s parents by Umberto Veruda, had been seized by the Nazi regime in 1940 and subsequently sold at auction. Despite years of searching, all efforts to locate their possessions failed, with both Henry and Anny passing away without having ever seen their paintings again.

The current Possessor
The exact whereabouts of the painting from 1940 to 1952 is not known. However, in 1952 it was acquired by Edward Speelman who purchased the painting from Henry James Alfred Spiller (1890 – 1966), a frequent purchaser at auction during WWII.

The current possessor bought the painting in 1953, unaware of the painting’s history and has had unbroken enjoyment of the work for more than 60 years. In 2015, the decision was made to reach out to the Graf family to resolve all title issues before moving forward with a sale.

Following the discovery of this painting nearly 15 years ago, and nearly 80 years after Henry and Anny Graf last saw the painting, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family and the current possessors was successfully negotiated by Art Recovery International last December, leading to the subsequent sale of this remarkable work this summer.

 

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