Painted in 1901, Max Libermann’s ” Two Riders Riders on the Beach” has changed hands, been looted by the Nazis, and has even had a replica relief made of it for the long lost blind heir to the painting. Let’s just say, if the riders could talk, they would have an epic tale to tell for sure!
Max Liebermann (1847-1935) put many scenes on canvas. The Impressionist was often drawn to the coast of Holland, where he found inspiration in the light, the people and the landscape. Liebermann was co-founder and chairman of the Berlin Secession art association and president of the Prussian Academy of the Arts. He suffered under the Nazis – but could never have imagined the extent to which his “Two Riders” would be trampled on, both politically and legally.
It was the art sensation of the century when the work turned up in 2012 in the Munich apartment of collector Cornelius Gurlitt, along with hundreds of others, many of which were suspected of being looted by the Nazis decades before. The Bavarian authorities secured the works and the state quickly put together a team of provenience researchers to look into the origin of each artwork.
In 2014, the researchers came to the conclusion that it is “very probable” that Liebermann’s painting had been unethically or illegally acquired by the Nazis. It was then returned to its earlier owner and landed on the market four weeks later. It was expected to fetch at least $52,4568 US dollars, but instead, fetched over $84,8911 million at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday (June 24, 2015).
As early as 1954, nine years after the end of the war, “Two Riders” was displayed in a Liebermann exhibit in the Kunsthalle Bremen (Museum in Bremen, Germany). In 1960, it went on show in exhibitions in Berlin, Recklinghausen and Vienna.
It is said that an art collector and brick maker, David Friedmann, who was Jewish, was the first owner of “Two Riders”. He lived in Breslau, which is now the Polish city of Wroclaw. He owned the painting at least until 1928, according to the records.
“In 1938 at the latest, David Friedmann’s family was persecuted by the Nazis,” wrote the provenience research team that was working on finding out the true past of this painting, known as the Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund.
Evidence of what happened next was found in a letter from high-raking Breslau official, Dr. Ernst Westram to the finance minister of Nazi Germany, Walther Funk, on December 5 1939. The letter asked if he he could “legally” relieve Jews of their valuable artworks. Westram considered Two Riders to be worth 15 times as much as the estimate price. The Nazis forbid Friedmann from selling his collection. Three years later, he passed away of natural causes. The rest of his family was murdered during the Holocaust.
The director of the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Breslau, Conrad Müller Hofstede, bought the painting at an auction for a few thousand, though the date of the transaction remains unknown. In 1942, he sold the Two Riders to Cornelius Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was known by some as “Adolf Hitler’s art dealer.”
After World War II, the so-called Monuments Men – Allied experts tasked with recovering artworks – took possession of the work. But it was returned to Gurlitt in 1950 due to a lack of documentation on its provenience. Gurlitt claimed to have owned the work already in 1933.
In this way, many pieces of art found their way back into the hands of Cornelius Gurlitt after the war. He died in May 2014 and bequeathed his collection to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland.
Then, it was a New York-based attorney, David Toren, who put the Two Riders up for auction in London. Toren, now 89, says that the memories of the painting have been with him his how life. David Friedmann was his great-uncle, and the work hung in Friedmann’s villa.
“I saw the painting for the last time the day after the Crystal Night on November 9, 1938,” Toren told DW in a 2014 interview, referring to the horrific Jewish pogrom. “My father had been arrested in the morning by the Gestapo. The day after the Crystal Night, all Jewish men in Germany of the age of 17 to 75, including my father, were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp for three weeks as punishment.”
Toren was 14 years old at the time and was left sitting in the room where the Liebermann painting was hanging. “I looked at it for hours, because I had to wait. I always liked that painting because I like horses,” he said.
David Toren sued Germany and the state of Bavaria for the return of the work, though he did not demand financial compensation. The sentimental value of the work is much greater for him. “The painting is an heirloom,” he said in 2014. “It belongs to my family. No one else should have it. It could be one of the few things which could remind me of my background, of my family.”
Now it seems he’s changed his mind. “I am 90 years old now and blind so, while the return of the paintings after so many years is of huge personal significance, I can no longer appreciate the painting as I did all those years ago,” said Toren recently.
I would have loved to hear the “Two Riders on the Beach” talk about their journey across time and space, wouldn’t you?!
One of Franz Marc’s “Blue Horse” paintings were found as well!
Hope you enjoyed seeing a painting that has been hidden for decades! If you like equine art that has been thought to be lost, but them suddenly turn up, in apartment, in a warehouse, on the moon (not really:), you might want to checkout this article from May, 2015.
Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !