Sunday, January 17, 2010

Looting and Exploitation in Nazi-Occupied Europe by Dr. Jonathan Petropoulos

Dr. Jonathan Petropoulos delivered a lecture on Nazi art looting in Vienna last fall, focusing on the case studies of art dealers Curt Valentin and Otto Kallir, both of whom moved large quantities of artworks from Nazi Germany into the United States during and after World War II.   A link to Dr. Petropoulos' lecture on video is here at the Art Stolen from Fritz Grunbaum blog.

Dr. Petropoulos' studies on Curt Valentin and Otto Kallir are extremely important for those trying to track artworks looted by the Nazis that are now in museums and private collections in the United States and abroad.

According to a newly-released study prepared for the Swiss government by Laurie Stein, former founding director of the Pulitzer Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art in New York was the largest recipient of artworks from Curt Valentin.   Other than Dr. Petropoulos, art historians have completely ignored Curt Valentin, whose clients included a Who's Who of American art museums, colleges and wealthy collectors who snapped up modern artworks as the Nazi terror forced Jews to sell the works at fire-sale prices.   Alfred Barr, the MoMA's first director, was said to be in Curt Valentin's gallery on 57th Street on a weekly basis.

Above is an image of Egon Schiele's Girl with Black Hair, you can see her image at Oberlin College's website hereIn 1998, Oberlin College's then-President Nancy Dye promised the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she would investigate Schiele expert Rudolph Leopold's claim that Girl with Black Hair, along with sixteen other Schieles in American museums, belonged to Fritz Grunbaum.  Dye never published any results from her research.  In 2009, the Cleveland Jewish News reported evidence of Grunbaum's prior ownership, the article is here. 

Art catalogues show that this artwork was in the collection of Fritz Grunbaum before he died at the Dachau Concentration Camp.  The work is at the Allen Museum at Oberlin College, which refuses to document or share its research into the work's provenance prior to its acquisition in Switzerland in 1956 by Otto Kallir.  Kallir purchased it from Gutekunst & Klipstein, a clearinghouse for Nazi-looted art in Berne, Switzerland.  Oberlin's President Marvin Krislov has refused to permit me to meet with Oberlin's art historians to discuss the matter on campus.

Oberlin College has both music and Jewish studies programs.  It is shameful that they do not study the life, career, and art collection of Fritz Grunbaum, considered Austria's greatest cabaret performer and comedian of all time, celebrated by the Viennese with Karl Farkas as inventors of the "Doppelconference" a sort of Abbot & Costello routine.

As one account of Fritz's death at Dachau has it:

It was on New Year’s Eve, 1940, that Grünbaum gave his last performance. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, he decided to put on a show for the entertainment of prisoners in the camp infirmary. Despite his sickly appearance, one of the prisoners recognised him from his glory days in Vienna. Grünbaum pleaded:

I beg of you, Fritz Grünbaum is not performing for you, but instead it is the number [and recited his camp number], who just wants to spread a little happiness on the last day of the year.

Soon after this final show he attempted suicide, but was 'saved' by the SS officers. Just two weeks later, on 14 January 1941, a death certificate was made up for him. He had succumbed, according to the Nazis, to a weak heart.

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