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Painting Lost Due to Nazi Persecution Returned to Rightful Owner

December 6, 2007

New York, N.Y.: The New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) today announced the restitution of a 17th century Dutch landscape painting attributed to Jan de Vos I to its rightful owner, the estate of Dr. Max Stern.  This painting is the third, of several hundred listed in the claim filed by Dr. Stern’s estate, to be returned. Christie’s will hand over the painting to Concordia University, one of the beneficiaries of the Stern estate, at the Ben Uri Gallery in London today, Thursday, December 6, 2007.

“I would like to commend Christie’s for their committed cooperation and assistance throughout this entire process,” New York State Banking Superintendent Richard H. Neiman said. “Also, I thank the HCPO for their continuing persistence in negotiating the return of property lost due to Nazi persecution to the rightful owners.”

The painting, an Extensive landscape with travelers on a track near a walled town with a castle and a church, a village beyond, was attributed to Francois van Knibbergen until as late as 1968. The painting has since been reattributed to Jan de Vos I. These changes in attribution illustrate one of the many challenges facing the Stern estate as well as others in researching, identifying and locating artworks lost between 1933 and 1945.

As a person of Jewish descent Dr. Stern, owner of Galerie Stern of Düsseldorf, did not fit the membership requirements of the Reich Chamber of Culture (RKK) and in 1935 was legally prohibited from buying and selling art in Germany. Based on research carried out by the HCPO and the estate on the painting’s provenance history, it became clear that the persecution Dr. Stern suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime compelled him to sell the painting in mid-1937, not long before the forced liquidation of his gallery in November 1937 and his flight from Germany in December of that same year.

After due diligence and cataloguing research, Christie’s traced the painting back to 1937 with links to the Galerie Stern. Upon this discovery, Christie's notified the consignor and subsequently the Stern estate and the HCPO, at which point negotiations for the return of the de Vos began.   Monica Dugot, Senior Vice President and Director of Restitution for Christie’s worldwide said: "Christie's is delighted to have assisted in the return of the Jan de Vos painting to the Max Stern Estate. We take the question of works of art looted during the Nazi-era very seriously and are committed to working with clients, the claimant community, museums and dealers in finding clarity on such difficult and sensitive issues and in continuing to help find solutions where these arise."

The painting will be on display at the Ben Uri Gallery - London Jewish Museum of Art and then at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Ben Uri Gallery is currently hosting “Auktion 392: Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf” an exhibition about the Nazi-forced closure of Dr. Stern’s gallery. More information can be found at http://www.auktion392.com.

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 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 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 17 works of art. 

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.