‘What the Nazis Stole’ at Worcester Art Museum shows art endures


WORCESTER – From the early years of the 20th century until around 1938, Dr Richard Neumann built a remarkable collection of over 200 paintings and sculptures comprising Italian Renaissance art and Old Masters.

“You could tell it tasted really fine,” said Claire Whitner, curator of the Worcester Art Museum and James A. Welu director of European art.

However, “when you talk about artwork from a person’s collection, the crossing line is the person,” Whitner said.

Richard Neumann (1879-1959) was a remarkable person and the joys and sorrows throughout his life are captured in the Worcester Art Museum’s latest exhibition, “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann (and the Search for pick it up) ”, opening April 10 and continuing until January 16, 2022. (Currently, entry to the galleries and the WAM boutique is only by reservation and ticket in advance. Visit worcesterart.org)

Richard Neumann before World War II.

The direct line continues from 1938, when Neumann, an Austrian businessman of Jewish origin, had much of his art collection seized by the Nazis after the annexation of Austria that year. by Nazi Germany.

Neumann and his wife, Alice, fled Vienna for Paris, taking 38 pieces from their collection with them. They lived in Paris for some time after the Nazi invasion of France, then in 1942 managed to escape to the unoccupied area and finally to Cuba.

But Neumann lost the remaining works of art in his possession. In Cuba, he first worked as a foreman in a textile factory. He and his wife eventually moved to New York City, where Neumann died in 1959.

Neumann spent the last years of his life trying to get his art collection back, an extremely difficult task that his family has continued to this day. The quest is not only for the personal satisfaction of the family, but also to follow the wishes of Neumann “who believed in the obligation to promote the role of the arts in civic life,” Whitner said.

To date, 16 pieces have been returned to the family, including 14 in the exhibition “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann”.

These works were placed in the Worcester Art Museum by the Neumann family on long-term loan.

Maerten van Heemskerck (Netherlandish, 1498–1574), Right altar wing with donor, c. 1540, oil on panel, The Selldorff family in memory of Richard Neumann.

Among them, the left and right wings of a 16th century triptych by the Dutch painter Maerten van Heemskerck, and two sculptures by the high baroque sculptor Alessandro Algardi and the sculptor of the Rococo period Guiseppe Sanmartino. Also included are works by Italian Renaissance artists Alessandro Magnasco, Giovanni Battista Pittoni the Younger and Alessandro Longhi.

After the exhibition closes in January 2022, the loans will be incorporated into the existing galleries of WAM’s Old Master collection.

Tom Selldorff, grandson of Richard Neumann, who lives in the Boston area, said: “WAM is a very popular museum in the area of ​​course, and in fact we had contact with them several years ago. through a former chairman of their board, Cliff Schorer.

“And we knew about their vast collection of Renaissance art. When we needed to find a home for our salvaged art collection due to the move to a retirement home, it was Claire Whitmer who got really interested and we found a lot of common ground. This is why we decided that WAM was the best place to house my grandfather’s art, a place for our family and the general public to enjoy. “

Whitner added: “While her family’s struggle for the return of her collection is too emblematic of the challenges faced by many other Jewish collectors of this period, we are extremely grateful to her family for their generosity in engaging in this long-term loan of these works, which will allow a new generation of audiences to admire them, as well as for us to conduct new research and scholars.

In addition to art, the exhibition “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann” features several interesting features such as a recreation of Neumann’s house in Vienna just before the infamous Anschluss on March 12, 1938, and a timeline of her family’s efforts to salvage the works of art over the past 75 years.

Maerten van Heemskerck (Dutch, 1498–1574), Left altar wing with male donor, c. 1540, oil on panel, The Selldorff family in memory of Richard Neumann.

Whitner, who is also the curator of the exhibition, said she envisioned “how we can tell the story in a compelling way?”

To this end, a space has been created that evokes what a family living room in Vienna might have looked like from this period. A floor-to-ceiling reproduction was created, made from a photograph of the family home in Vienna. Period-appropriate seats will also be included, so that visitors can see part of the collection from the perspective they would have had as guests at the Neumann House.

There will also be books in this sitting area of ​​the living room that deal with the subject of Nazi-era provenance and restitution claims, highlighting the challenges many families have faced since the end of World War II.

People will see the works in the context of “the last time they were all together at his house,” Whitner said.

“You feel like you are in a private house sitting in Neumann’s living room, and I think it’s an essential part of the story to think of that domestic space where all the paintings were together for the last time. “she said. It was a house that “ceased to be quite quickly”.

Sebastiano Ricci (Italian, 1659–1734), Abraham and the Three Angels, c. 1695, oil on canvas, The Selldorff Family in Memory of Richard Neumann.

Neumann was born in Vienna into a well-to-do family of textile manufacturers, and was both president of the family business – which had factories all over Austria and Bohemia – and an arts lover who earned his doctorate. at the University of Heidelberg. At the age of 42, he had assembled a body of works of such quality that 28 of them received the status of Viennese “landmarks” in 1921.

Neumann had the works of art in his house, “but he also generously loaned them to exhibitions,” Whitner said.

“He clearly saw the importance of seeing his collection beyond his own home. He wasn’t buying and selling to make money, he was buying to create a collection and keep it whole,” a- she declared.

After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, Neumann’s collection was inventoried in accordance with anti-Jewish laws put in place by the Nazis, and most of it was seized by a series of forced sales and denial of export license applications.

Many works were intended to be exhibited in an art gallery that Adolf Hitler wanted to build in Linz, the Austrian city in which he grew up. The gallery was to be filled with works of art looted across Europe by the Nazis from museums and private collections, many of which were Jewish.

Two of the paintings in the exhibition “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann” will be placed on pedestals so that people can see how the backs of the frames were stamped by various officials or people who came into possession of the works.

Alessandro Algardi (Italian, 1598-1654), Pope Innocent X (bozzetto), circa 1640, terracotta, The Selldorff family in memory of Richard Neumann.

Neumann had started suing the Austrian government in the 1950s, but international rules and regulations were not initially helpful to those in his position.

“The laws of the land will not allow him to get his hands on paintings. It gets very complex. It’s a process. It’s been an incredible amount of work,” Whitner said.

Selldorff began working with Vienna-based art historian Sophie Lillie, who is also an advisor for the exhibition “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann”.

Lillie documented around 50 stolen works in her book “Was einmal war” based on inventories of works of art recovered by the “Museum Men” at the end of World War II. .

She helped the Neumann family recover two objects from the Weinstadtmuseum in Krems, an Austrian city, six from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and six from the French museums, including the Louvre in Paris.

Two paintings, which have resurfaced on the art market in recent years, have been recovered from private collectors.

“My grandfather had a deep love and understanding of timeless fine art and its importance to civilized society,” Selldorff said. “It was a privilege to work on the recovery of part of his collection and to pass on his passion to our children and grandchildren.”

Yet many works have yet to be traced and the 14 pieces in the WAM exhibition are only a fraction of what Neumann once owned.

Through it all, “art is the sustaining thing,” observed Whitner.

An undated photo of Richard Neumann in Havana.

When Neumann was in Cuba as a foreman in a textile factory by day, he lectured on art at night. He was also trying to build a fine arts museum there – the Palacio de Belles Artes in Havana, Whitner said.

“This (art) is really her calling,” she says. “He had a real love for humanity, and I think the art sums it up.

“War destroys, art creates. And conveying that – the way the surviving family members approached it is truly inspiring. With tenacity, but trust in the real good of humanity regardless.”

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