MFAH said he rightfully owned “Marketplace at Pirna” while grandchildren of a previous owner argued that he should be returned due to how he left their heir.
HOUSTON — A fight over an 18th century painting has Houston Museum of Fine Arts in federal court earlier this year, but a judge has since dismissed the case, allowing the museum to keep the artwork.
The people trying to take the painting are the grandsons of a German businessman who they believe sold Bernardo Bellotto’s painting to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s dealer under duress.
Editor’s note: The videos attached to this article are from a previous report.
RELATED: The Houston Museum of Fine Arts has engaged in a legal battle over Bernardo Bellotto’s painting
The MFAH released the following statement regarding the dismissal:
“The Houston Museum of Fine Arts received a prompt and final decision from the Federal Court on this matter. As was the case in 2006-2007, when we carefully investigated and reviewed the claim, we found no evidence suggesting that the Bellotto had been stolen, seized or confiscated, and we have ample documentation to show that in 1938 Dr. Max Emden, a Swiss citizen and resident, initiated the voluntary sale of our painting, for which he was paid the asking price. Title.”
The Monuments Men Foundation released the following statement on the decision:
“On May 27, 2021, MFAH Director Gary Tinterow wrote to the Monuments Men Foundation stating, “There is no physical evidence linking the MFAH (Bellotto) image to Emden, the Reichschancellery or in Linz. It was wrong. At the time of his statement, the museum’s website listed both Max Emden and Karl Haberstock, Hitler’s main art buyer, in the chain of title. In June museum staff removed Emden and Haberstock from the chain of title, but the following month Tinterow confirmed Emden’s prior ownership in a print interview.
“The belated acknowledgment by the MFAH that the Bellotto painting is an Emden family heirloom means that, regardless of any court rulings, a painting once belonging to a German Jew, stripped of his possessions by the Nazis, now hangs in one of the richest museums in our country because of a clerical error in 1946 and a fraud in 1951. The Museum now knows these facts.Instead of a show of grace, we have an example greed: the Museum paid nothing for the painting. While the Monuments Men Foundation is disappointed by the decision, it is by no means the end of the matter nor the moral imperative of the MFAH to return the painting from Bellotto to the Emden family.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Hitler confiscated cultural property from other countries during World War II, including works of art.
During the war, the allies attempted to recover the stolen art. The people leading the movement became known as the Monuments Men. In 2014, George Clooney starred in a film based on a book written by Robert Edsel that documented their efforts.
“To try to protect cultural treasures from the destruction of war,” Edsel said of the current issue.
Edsel said he keeps their efforts alive today through the Monuments Men Foundation, and that’s where MFAH comes in.
The table in question is ‘The Market Square in Pirna’ by Bernardo Bellottocirca 1764. It is believed to be the one donated to the museum in 1961 by art collector Samuel Kress.
One argument was that the painting once belonged to German businessman Max Emden, whose descendants claim they were coerced into selling the painting to Hitler’s art dealer, Karl Haberstock, because his property was seized by the Nazis in Germany.
“When you deprive them of the things they’ve spent their life earning, … They’re going to make all the decisions they need to make to survive,” Edsel said.
The MFAH argued otherwise. In a statement, he said the museum had evidence that Emden bought the painting in other countries before selling it to Haberstock at the asking price. The museum said the sale was voluntary.
“I would like someone to describe to me how there can be a level playing field when you are negotiating with Adolf Hitler and you are Jewish,” Edsel said. “Nothing changes the underlying facts and those alone, in my view, are enough for the museum to say, ‘This thing stinks to heaven, we should return the picture. “”