U.K. Museum to Keep Renoir Sold in Nazi-era Auction

Claim by heirs of the previous owners of the painting rejected by government panel.

Renoir's The Coast of Cagnes
Renoir's The Coast of Cagnes

A British art gallery does not have to return a Renoir painting sold at a Nazi-organized "Jew auction" in 1935 to the heirs of the previous owner, a government panel has ruled.

Renoir's "The Coast of Cagnes," currently hanging in the municipal art museum in Bristol, a city in south-west England, was sold by fine art dealers the Margraf group at an auction in Berlin in 1935.

The heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, who lost ownership of Margraf under the Nazis, had demanded the return of the painting or the payment of compensation by the museum, the Western Daily Press reported.

But the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a government body that considers claims over cultural objects lost during the Nazi era and currently held by a museum or gallery in the United Kingdom, rejected the claim, ruling that the painting was sold because of a bank debt rather than Nazi persecution.

The Oppenheimers are believed to have fled from Germany to France in 1937 to avoid arrest.

According to the panel, an Austrian Jewish man is thought to have brought the painting with him to Bristol in 1939. Leopold Moller fled Hamburg from the Gestapo and later left the painting to the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery on his death in 1999, according to the report.

The item was then given to the council and remains on display in the French collection of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

“In all the circumstances, the panel finds that the moral strength of Margraf’s claim is insufficient to justify a recommendation that the painting be transferred or that an ex-gratia payment be made," the panel said in its report.

“The fact that the painting formed part of the Margraf inventory, and indeed its sale in the 1935 Graupe auction, now forms an integral part of the painting’s provenance,” it added.

“Its acquisition by Mr Moller before he was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1939 also forms part of that fabric and, without any obligation on the council, the panel considers it would be fitting to incorporate into the painting’s narrative history when displayed, the Oppenheimers’ connection with the painting such that it serves their memory as well as Mr Moller’s.”

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