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Looted Drawing Returned to Heirs of Original Owner

October 30, 2007

New York, N.Y.: The New York State Banking Department and The Metropolitan Museum of Art today announced the return of a drawing entitled Interior of a Church, that has been attributed to the School of 16th-century Flemish artist Pieter Neeffs the Elder, to the heirs of its original owner, Dr. Arthur Feldmann. The drawing, looted by the Nazis in 1939,will be returned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Uri Peled, grandson of Dr. Feldmann.

Restitution efforts of the 22.8 x 37.9 cm pen and ink drawing were led by the New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO).  “I am honored that the Banking Department was able to play a vital role in the restitution of this work of art,” Superintendent Richard H. Neiman commented.  “Nearly 70 years after it was looted by the Nazis of World War II, this unique drawing will be restored to its rightful owners.  I would like to acknowledge Mr. Peled’s diligent research and dedication to this effort and congratulate him and his family on this resolution.”

Dr. Feldmann, a prominent Jewish lawyer from Brno, Czechoslovakia, was also a well-known collector of Old Master drawings.  His collection consisted of over 750 drawings by Dutch, Italian and French 16th and 17th century artists.  On March 15, 1939, the Nazis invaded Brno and requisitioned the Feldmann villa for use as officer quarters and looted all the Feldmann’s household goods and possessions, including the drawings collection.  Like the fate of many European Jews at the time, Dr. Feldmann lost his livelihood, all of his property, and eventually his life, after being arrested, tortured, and suffering a stroke.  His wife Gisela was sent to Theresienstadt and later perished at Auschwitz.  Dr. Feldmann’s two sons, fled Czechoslovakia in 1940, and survived the war.

Uri Peled approached the HCPO, with his initial research, seeking assistance in tracking down a number of his grandfather’s looted pieces of art. The HCPO was able to identify Dr. Feldmann’s Interior of a Church drawing in the photo archives at the Frick Art Reference Library and discovered that the drawing was located in the Department of Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Museum promptly confirmed that the drawing was in the Museum’s collection and was catalogued as a work produced by an imitator of Pieter Neefs.  

The HCPO provided the Museum with information and documentation showing that the Nazis looted the drawing from Dr. Feldmann in 1939.  Acknowledging that Dr. Feldmann lost possession of the drawing due to Nazi persecution, the Museum agreed that it should be returned to his heirs as its rightful owner.  The Museum received the drawing as a bequest from Mr. Sperling in 1975 and was unaware of its connection to Dr. Feldmann or that it was looted during the Holocaust.  Mr. Sperling acquired the drawing from P. and D. Colnaghi and Co., Ltd. in London in 1954. 

“The Metropolitan pledged in 1998 to learn and share the full ownership history of its collections.  In pursuit of that goal, the Metropolitan has conducted extensive research and published on its website the provenance of its entire holdings of European paintings.  Keeping faith with our promise to this issue, when presented with this unexpected, but justifiable, claim, the Met immediately sought additional information from the heirs, and reached the prompt conclusion to return the work,” stated Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Museum.

Since the end of World War II, the heirs of Dr. Feldmann have tirelessly sought to recover his drawings collection.  The German government denied the family’s post-war restitution claim because they could not show that the stolen drawings were in Germany.  Over sixty years later, Dr. Feldmann’s grandson, Uri Peled, continues to seek to preserve his grandfather’s legacy and recover his looted drawings. 

Uri Peled remarked, “On behalf of Dr. Feldmann's heirs, I want to express my deepest appreciation to the HCPO, particularly Sherri Cohen Esq., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The HCPO staff was knowledgeable, well connected and worked diligently to identify and return this work from my grandfather’s collection. Once notified of the Interior of a Church drawing, representatives from the Met were immediately cooperative and quick to begin the process of returning the work.” Mr. Peled added, “Both of these organizations demonstrated their true commitment to restituting Nazis-looted art work to their original and rightful owners.”    

The HCPO is a division of the New York State Banking Department.  It was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover: assets deposited in European banks; unpaid proceeds of insurance policies issued by European insurers; and artworks that were lost, looted or sold under duress.  The HCPO does not charge claimants for its services.  To date, the HCPO has responded to more than 13,000 inquires resulting in 4,774 claims from 45 states and 38 countries and has helped return approximately $70 million in bank claims, more than $26 million in insurance claims, over $6 million in other assets, and has assisted in securing the return of 16 works of art.  The HCPO staff is comprised of lawyers, archivists, historians, political scientists, art historians and linguists.

TheNew York State Banking Department is the regulator for all state-chartered banking institutions, virtually all of the United States offices of international banking institutions, all of the State’s mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers, check cashers, money transmitters and budget planners. The aggregate assets of the depository institutions supervised by the Banking Department are more than $1.8 trillion.

In addition to regulating banking institutions, the Banking Department is active in informing and educating all New Yorkers on banking matters. To contact the Banking Department, please call 1-877-BANK-NYS or visit our Web site at www.banking.state.ny.us.

Mr. de Montebello served as chairman of the special task force on World War II-era claims that established museum-wide policy for the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in 1998.

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