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Painting Lost During Nazi Forced Sale Returned to Rightful Owners
Lecomte-Vernet’s “Aimee, a Young Egyptian” recovered by the Max Stern Estate

October 19, 2006

Painting: Aimee, a Young Egyptian

New York , N.Y. : The New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) today announced the return of a painting, entitled “Aimee, a Young Egyptian” by Emile Lecomte-Vernet, to its rightful owner, the estate of Dr. Max Stern. This painting is the first of more than 200 listed in a claim the estate has filed with the HCPO. The painting will be unveiled by Concordia University at a ceremony in Montreal on Thursday, October 19, 2006.

Negotiations for the return of the Lecomte-Vernet painting began as soon as Sotheby’s determined that the artwork belonged to the late Dr. Stern, a prominent Jewish gallery owner in Düsseldorf, Germany. This work is one of more than 200 paintings sold by Dr. Stern for a fraction of their market value during a 1937 forced sale at Lempertz auction house in Cologne.

In January 2005, the estate filed an art restitution claim for these paintings with the HCPO, a division of the New York State Banking Department. Since that time, the HCPO has worked closely with Concordia University (one of three university beneficiaries of the Stern estate) to identify and locate Dr. Stern’s missing artworks. To date, they have identified hundreds of missing works, located numerous current possessors, and are presently negotiating the return of several of Dr. Stern’s looted pictures in the United States and around the world. The Lecomte-Vernet painting is the first work to be recovered by the estate.

New York State Banking Superintendent Diana L. Taylor said, “I commend Concordia University and Sotheby’s for their collaboration on the restitution of this painting upon discovery of its provenance as a Nazi-looted work of art. This is only the first of the more than 200 paintings listed in the Stern estate’s claim filed with the HCPO which were sold under duress at the 1937 Lempertz sale, and we hope that this sets a precedent for future claims.”

Lucian Simmons, Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s in New York and the worldwide head of Sotheby’s Restitution Department said, “Sotheby’s is delighted to have been able to play a part in the recovery of this painting. In 2002, Sotheby’s was instrumental in drawing the estate’s attention to the fate of Max Stern’s artworks and it is fitting that we have now been able to facilitate the estate’s first restitution.”

Under the leadership of Clarence Epstein, Director of Special Projects for the President’s Cabinet, Concordia University has led the estate’s art restitution efforts. “ The Estate is deeply grateful to the New York State Banking Department for its commitment to pursuing the restitution of hundreds of Dr. Stern's Nazi looted artworks,” Mr. Epstein said. “ The return of the Lecomte-Vernet picture will hopefully be the first of many Stern pictures to be recovered by the Estate as a result of our collaborative efforts ."

The Nazi-forced closure of Dr. Stern’s gallery, culminating with the 1937 sale—known as sale number 392 at Lempertz auction house in Cologne— will be the focus of the traveling exhibition, “Auktion 392 Reclaiming the Galerie Stern Düsseldorf”, opening at the FOFA Gallery at Concordia University on October 19 th. The exhibition, co-sponsored by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, is scheduled to stop in New York at the Leo Baeck Institute this winter and then travel to Israel and throughout Europe.

Dr. Stern’s father opened the Galerie Stern in Düsseldorf in 1913, and Dr. Stern became its sole owner upon his father’s death in 1934. In 1935, the recently created Reich Chamber of Culture (RKK) began to require that all persons engaged in cultural fields (including art dealers) register and join the RKK. In August 1935, Dr. Stern received notice that, as a person of Jewish descent, he did not fit RKK membership requirements and was therefore legally prohibited from buying and selling art in Germany.

His repeated appeals to overturn this prohibition were futile. On September 1937, the RKK gave Dr. Stern the final order to immediately sell his gallery’s remaining inventory through a Nazi-approved RKK dealer. The Gestapo enforced this order and on November 13, 1937 Dr. Stern liquidated the gallery’s remaining stock—more than 200 paintings—at a fraction of their market value at Lempertz auction house in Cologne. Dr. Stern never recovered the meager proceeds from this sale and his bank accounts were frozen by Nazi authorities.

In December 1937, Dr. Stern fled Nazi Germany, ultimately settling in Montreal, Canada, where he became one of the country’s most influential art dealers and director of the Dominion Gallery. Upon his death in 1987, he bequeathed the bulk of his assets, including any potential recovery of lost artworks, to three non-profit institutions: McGill University (in Montreal), Concordia University (also in Montreal), and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (in Israel).

“Aimee, a Young Egyptian” , also known as “Cimbals”, was painted in oil on canvas in 1869 by Emile Lecomte-Vernet. The image is 51.4 inches high by 34.7 inches wide. Lecomte-Vernet was born in Paris in 1821 into an elite family of artists. He studied at the l’Ecole de Beau-Arts under the tutelage of his uncle, Horace Vernet, and Leon Cogniet, who both largely influenced his painting style and technique. From his debut at the Paris Salons in 1846, when he first won the bronze medal at the mere age of twenty-five, until 1892, Lecomte-Vernet regularly exhibited his artwork at the Paris Salons to critical acclaim.

The Holocaust Claims Processing Office, a division of the New York State Banking Department, was created to recover assets deposited in European banks; monies never paid in connection with insurance policies issued by European insurers; and reclaim lost or looted art to original owners and their heirs. The office offers its services at no charge to claimants. Since it was opened in 1997, it has received a total of 4,769 claims from 48 states and 37 countries regarding Holocaust-era bank accounts, insurance policies or lost or stolen art. The HCPO has been able to return approximately $42 million in bank claims, more than $18 million in insurance claims and has previously settled 13 art claims.

The HCPO staff is comprised of lawyers, archivists, historians, political scientists, art historians and linguists. The combined experience and skill sets permit it to perform complex historical and technical research that results in significant settlements for claimants.

Anyone who believes they may have a potential claim or who wishes to obtain additional information regarding the HCPO should call 1-800-695-3318 or log on to its Web site at www.claims.state.ny.us.

The New 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 $1.5 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.

 

 

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