IFAR Helps in Restitution of Nazi-Looted Drawing

November 2004

The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), headquartered in New York, are delighted to announce today the restitution of a drawing attributed to Rembrandt to the heirs of the late Dr. Arthur Feldmann of Brno, Czechoslovakia.

The drawing, entitled The Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison, was part of the extensive collection of Old Master drawings owned by Dr Feldmann, which was looted by the Nazis on the day they invaded Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. Dr Feldmann and his wife were thrown out of their home and all their possessions seized. Dr Feldmann died as a result of imprisonment and torture, and his wife was deported to Auschwitz, where she perished. Their children survived, and it is to their heirs that the drawing is being returned.

The return was initiated in 2002 by the American owner of the drawing, whose family had purchased the work in good faith many years before. The owner approached IFAR, a not-for-profit educational and research organization concerned with issues of art authenticity, ownership, law and ethics, after learning that the drawing might have once been owned by Dr. Feldmann. The owner asked IFAR to ascertain whether the work was the same drawing that had been in the Feldmann collection, and, if so, whether it had been looted. If it were found to have been looted and unrestituted, the owner asked IFAR to facilitate its return to the Feldmann heirs and made it clear from the outset that no money would be requested from them. IFAR, in turn, performed its services without remuneration.

IFAR’s investigation included examination of the work, provenance and other research. In the course of this work, IFAR approached the non-profit Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which represents the Feldmann family, for information about the drawing. The Commission has undertaken extensive research into the family’s collection with the help of Dr. Feldmann´s grandson Uri Peled, as a result of which in 2003 it recovered 135 drawings for the family from the Moravskà galerie, Brno, which had acquired them from the Nazis in 1941. The Commission’s restitution claim for four Feldmann drawings found in the British Museum, London, has also been agreed, and several other claims internationally are currently pending. The Commission was able to confirm the looted provenance of the drawing, and since then the Commission and IFAR have worked together to achieve this restitution.

Both organisations and the Feldmann family have been greatly moved by the collector’s willingness to initiate the process, and to restitute the drawing. Dr Feldmann´s grandson,Uri Peled, said, ”I have spent so many years searching for the collection and have experienced so many difficulties, that I very much appreciate the wish of this collector to seek us out and return the drawing to us. It means a great deal to our family.”

Anne Webber, Co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art, said, “It is very heartening that collectors and museums throughout the world have become more sensitive to Holocaust claims, and, as in this case, are doing ‘the right thing’. It is our hope that the return of this drawing to the Feldmann family will increase international awareness of the family’s efforts to recover the collection and lead to additional returns by people of goodwill who find themselves in possession of other drawings from the collection.”

Dr. Sharon Flescher, Executive Director of IFAR, said: “The extraordinary gesture of the American owners, who have chosen to remain anonymous, to learn the truth about a drawing for which no claim had been made to them, and then to offer to restitute the work without recompense or public recognition cannot be overestimated. In IFAR’s thirty years of working with issues relating to looted and stolen art, the generosity of their actions stand out. We are pleased to have played a role in this important event and hope that it may spur other, similar actions. A fuller report of the restitution of this drawing will be published in our quarterly, IFAR Journal.”

The Drawing:
The Liberation of St. Peter from Prison, attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn
5 9/16 inches X 5 inches (14.2 cm X 12.6 cm)
Pen and bistre on paper

Reference: Otto Benesch. The Drawings of Rembrandt. Complete Edition in Six Volumes. Enlarged and edited by Eva Benesch. Phaidon: London, 1973, Vol.I, #170. (Dated by Benesch c. 1638-1639)