Bloomberg follows yet another restitution case. This one comes from an American dealer who learned a recently acquired painting had a restitution claim just two days before customs agents showed up at his gallery. Lawrence Steigrad bought the Dutch Old Master painting from Philip Mould:
“I was in my warehouse in New Jersey when Philip Mould called me on my cell phone,” Steigrad said in an e-mailed response to written questions. “I was shocked and upset that we had not found out before we purchased this painting, as we both had it checked. We were both happy that I had not sold it on, causing more problems and involving private clients.”
Mould himself discovered the facts about the painting by stumbling across them even though the painting had been listed with the Art Loss Register and the auction house that sold it has their sales vetted:
“We first learned that the picture was in the Stern sale while doing some research for a BBC program on looted art,” Bendor Grosvenor, gallery director at Philip Mould, said in an e-mailed response to written questions. “In a strange coincidence, we came across the picture on the Stern Web site on March 30. We immediately alerted the Steigrad gallery to discuss the return of the picture to the Stern estate.”
The painting is only the fourth of the 228 works owned by a Jewish art dealer, Max Stern, who was forced to sell in 1937 by the Nazis. Stern eventually re-established himself in the art business in Canada and left his estate to three universities which established a restitution project. A recent case declared all Stern’s works eligible for restitution. But the auction house Philip Mould bought the painting from, Kunsthaus Lempertz, doesn’t share his view of the works as stolen property:
Lempertz is managed by Henrik Hanstein, whose family has owned the auction house since 1875. He said in a telephone interview from Cologne that he disagrees with the U.S. court ruling on the Winterhalter painting that paved the way for the seizure. He said he opposes the return of art sold in the 1937 Lempertz auction to the Max Stern Estate.
“German law doesn’t view the Max Stern auction as a case for restitution,” Hanstein said. “Under German law, the U.S. dealer would be the rightful owner. He bought in good faith. I don’t see it the way they see it in America.”