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Governor: Two Paintings Returned to Heirs of Holocaust Victims
- Recovered Paintings Returned to Only Living Child and Holocaust Survivor-

November 27, 2001

Ruth Haller addresses the audience following the return of two of her father's paintings. Left to Right:  Superintendent Elizabeth McCaul, Monica Dugot, Ruth Haller, Jane Lerner, Catherine Lillie, and Chaim Haller all pose with "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion," one of the returned paintings.
Ruth Haller addresses the audience following the return of two of her father's paintings. From left to right: New York County D.A. Robert Morganthau, Superintendent Elizabeth McCaul, Ruth Haller, Governor George Pataki, and Chaim Haller. Left to Right: Superintendent Elizabeth McCaul, Monica Dugot, Ruth Haller, Jane Lerner, Catherine Lillie, and Chaim Haller all pose with "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion," one of the returned paintings.

Governor George E. Pataki today announced that part of a significant collection of art was returned to the heirs of Holocaust victim Dr. Ismar Littmann at a ceremony held this morning in New York City.

Two paintings, which were completed in 1915 and 1927 by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) and Karl Hofer (1878-1955) respectively, were recovered as part of a Holocaust-era art settlement arranged by the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) of the New York State Banking Department. Mrs. Ruth Haller and her husband Chaim, Holocaust survivors living in Israel, filed the claim with the State Banking Department and were presented both paintings today by Governor Pataki.

"Today’s announcement is truly monumental—in less than one year, a New York State Agency has recovered three paintings belonging to one family," Governor Pataki said. "The return of stolen or lost art to the only living daughter of Ismar Littman, Mrs. Ruth Haller, is a testament of our commitment to her family and many others who suffered through the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. It is a small, but important symbol of justice."

"In addition to committing mass genocide against the Jewish people, the Nazi regime also organized and carried out one of the most sweeping and appalling campaigns of theft and robbery in human history," Governor Pataki said. "Despite their attempts to destroy life and culture of the Jewish people, we celebrate life today and the vibrant pre-war culture that gave us these wonderful art collections."

The two paintings returned during today’s ceremony are entitled "Portrait of Charlotte Corinth," and "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion." They are both part of a large collection originally owned by Dr. Littmann, who was a prominent attorney, art collector and supporter of the arts, in pre-war Breslau, Silesia, present-day Poland. With the Nazis' rise to power, Dr. Littmann faced overt persecution, culminating in his suicide in 1934. Part of his considerable collection was sold at auction and many other pieces of the collection were confiscated.

Ruth Haller, Dr. Littmann’s only surviving child, said, "I am very proud that after more than 60 years my father, who was a remarkable man, and his once important collection are recognized as something very special, thanks to the efforts of the HCPO, Dr. Willi Korte, and last but not least my husband Chaim."

Dr. Willi Korte, speaking on behalf of Dr. Littmann's heirs, said, "The Littmann heirs have received today important works of art that they have long sought, and the HCPO's assistance was critical in ensuring its expeditious return. Under the leadership of Governor Pataki and Superintendent McCaul, the HCPO has not only worked to secure the return of 'Portrait of Charlotte Corinth’ and ‘Seated Nude on Blue Cushion,’ it has also helped to ensure that Dr. Littmann's significant collection is finally recognized and given the attention it deserves."

Superintendent of Banks Elizabeth McCaul said, "I am very proud of the work done by Monica Dugot, Catherine Lillie and the entire HCPO staff to retrieve this painting. The Littmann claim was one of the very first art claims filed with the HCPO in the Spring of 1998. Finding three paintings for the Littmann heirs is a testament to the commitment of the HCPO and to the legacy of Neil Levin whose passion and inspiration helped to shape the mission of the HCPO when it was first created. Many families lost everything and everyone as a result of Nazi persecution. We hope that Dr. Littmann's heirs find comfort in the knowledge that we will not rest until we have determined the fate of every last piece of their family's collection."

Lovis Corinth’s "Portrait of Charlotte Corinth" dates from 1915. Corinth, one of the most prominent German painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, introduced Impressionistic influences into German art, eventually transcending Impressionism to shape the beginnings of the German Expressionist movement. Corinth loomed large over the Impressionist and nascent Expressionist art scene in Germany, with an oeuvre ranging from portraits to landscape to allegory. The Nazis considered his Expressionistic oeuvre degenerate.

"Portrait of Charlotte Corinth" was sold in February 1935 at the Max Perl auction house in Berlin during a type of sale commonly referred to by the Nazis as a "Jew Auction." Later that same year, the painting arrived at the National-Galerie in Berlin from where a Berlin dealer acquired it in 1940. In subsequent years it changed hands on at least three occasions, ultimately arriving at the Hamburger Landesbank, which held the painting as collateral for a loan. When the borrower defaulted, the Hamburger Landesbank put the painting up for auction in November 2000. Upon being notified of the Littmann family's claim, the Hamburger Landesbank withdrew the painting from auction and, as a result of the HCPO's efforts, returned the painting to its rightful owners.

Karl Hofer’s "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion" dates from 1927. Hofer, a German painter, draughtsman and printmaker, developed a style that bridged the gap between Expressionism and contemporary monumental Classicism. In 1934, Hofer was dismissed from his teaching post by the Nazis and forbidden to paint or exhibit his work. In July 1937, "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion" was part of the Nazi’s infamous exhibition of "Degenerate Art" in Munich.

"Seated Nude on Blue Cushion" is one of many works of art from the Littmann collection that the heirs of Dr. Littmann were forced to liquidate through Berlin auctions in 1935. On February 27 1935, a few days before the Max Perl auction, the Gestapo seized the painting, planning to destroy it together with 63 others also considered degenerate. In 1936, the Gestapo offered the paintings to the National-Galerie in Berlin, in the event that they had any interest in them as "material in relation to the history of civilization" and the museum accepted. In July 1937 the Gestapo seized "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion" once again, this time for exhibition in the "Degenerate Art" exhibit in Munich.

In 1939, Karl Bucholz, a Berlin art dealer commissioned by Joseph Goebbels to sell 'degenerate art' for foreign exchange, first offers "Seated Nude on Blue Cushion" for sale abroad as one of a number of German Expressionist paintings from museums, and in March 1941 sells the painting to a collector in Norway. In 1999, the London art dealer Steven Rich offers the painting consigned to him for sale. As part of the due diligence process, inquiries are made of the Art Loss Register, who identify the painting and inform the heirs of its whereabouts. After lengthy negotiations between Steven Rich's consignor, the Littmann heirs' representative and the HCPO, a settlement agreement is arrived at.

In February 2001, the Governor announced the return of the Alexander Kanoldt painting, "Olevano" which was returned by a museum in Berlin.

In all three cases, the HCPO worked with Sotheby’s, which generously arranged for the safe transfer of each painting to the United States.

Anyone who believes they may have a potential claim – or who wishes to obtain additional information regarding the Holocaust Claims Processing Office – should contact 1-800-695-3318.

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