Press Release

July 29, 2020 



Jacopo del Sellaio’s “Madonna and Child,” Jacopo Tintoretto’s “Holy Family,” and Pieter de Bloot’s “Scene in a Dutch Farmhouse” Belonged to Dr.  Anna A. Unger, Daughter of Dr. Gustav Arens, a Viennese Businessman and Art Collector

DFS Collaborated with the Fondazione Cerruti and Filed Successful Claims with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force During the Occupation (CIVS)

Superintendent of Financial Services Linda A. Lacewell today announced that the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) has facilitated compensation agreements for three significant paintings by Italian and Dutch old masters that were looted during the Nazi era.  Jacopo del Sellaio’s Madonna and Child, Jacopo Tintoretto’s Holy Family, and Pieter de Bloot’s Scene in a Dutch Farmhouse were part of the sizable art collection of Dr. Gustav Arens, a successful Viennese businessman.

Collaborating with the Fondazione Cerruti, the HCPO facilitated compensation for Dr. Anna A. Unger’s heirs for the del Sellaio painting and filed successful claims with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force During the Occupation (CIVS) for compensation for the Tintoretto and de Bloot.

“Dr. Unger’s heirs deserved compensation for their losses, and we are proud that the DFS HCPO team played an important role through international collaboration to deliver long-awaited restitution to the family,” said Superintendent Lacewell. “No amount of money can make up for the persecution of the past, but we hope these agreements represent a small measure of justice and closure. I applaud the Cerruti Foundation and the CIVS for the commendable way they handled these claims and resolved these issues for the family.”

When Dr. Arens passed away in 1936, his daughters Dr. Anna A. Unger and Lise Haas inherited his collection of 120 paintings, with Dr. Unger inheriting the del Sellaio, Tintoretto and de Bloot. Following the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, her husband, Dr. Friedrich Unger, was imprisoned and the whole family expelled from their native country immediately after his release. Before emigrating to the United States, they temporarily settled in France, where all of their personal property, including the inherited art works, was stored in a customs depot in Paris for safekeeping awaiting export to the United States.

In 1942, German authorities looted the family’s artwork. The Ungers recovered many of their paintings after World War II with the help of American military forces, but the pictures by del Sellaio, Tintoretto and de Bloot were never recovered. The Ungers pursued the del Sellaio for the next two decades before giving up the search much to the regret of their younger daughter Grete Unger Heinz, who had especially loved the painting since childhood.

"At almost 93, I had lost hope that this beloved Italian Renaissance painting belonging to my parents would ever resurface,” said Mrs. Heinz.  “I am pleased not only that the Cerruti Foundation has reached an equitable agreement with the Unger family heirs, including a full account of the painting’s troubled history, but also that I might yet see the work itself in the Castello di Rivoli Museum in my lifetime.”

“I am extremely pleased that our Museum, together with the Cerruti Foundation and the heirs of Ann and Friedrich Unger, was able to successfully resolve a decades-long Holocaust restitution claim,” said Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Director of Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea. Through scholarly provenance research on the Cerruti collection, and thanks to the HCPO, we were able to identify the heirs of this Renaissance painting lost during World War II,  compensate them for their loss, and keep the painting  in the Museum, for the public enjoyment. This artwork by Jacopo del Sellaio (1441-1493), so loved by its original owners, and also by Mr. Francesco Federico Cerruti (1922-2015), who acquired it in 1987 with no knowledge of its troubled past, has finally found peace.”

After Dr. Ann A. Unger’s death, her heirs continued this mission. Unbeknownst to the Unger family, it was sold at the Galerie Fischer, Lucerne in 1974 and again at Christie’s London in 1985, where it was acquired by the dealer Gianfranco Luzzetti who later sold it to the Italian art collector Francesco Federico Cerruti, who was unaware of the painting’s tainted past.

After Cerruti’s death, his foundation learned of the painting’s history and the Unger family’s loss. In a rare instance of a private Italian institution resolving a looted art claim, the Fondazione Cerruti sought to make amends and contacted the HCPO, reaching a settlement with Dr. Unger’s family. The painting is on permanent loan from the Fondazione Cerruti to the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Torino along with the rest of Cerruti’s collection.

Through a successful filing by the HCPO with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Forced during the Occupation (CIVS), Dr. Unger’s heirs also received monetary compensation for Tintoretto’s Holy Family and de Bloot’s Scene in a Dutch Farmhouse, which have never resurfaced.  Unlike previous CIVS decisions, compensation was based on the appraised value of the paintings in insurance documents from the 1930s and not post-war compensation values.