Escaping the Nazi regime in 1938, Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus fled Vienna, leaving behind their prized art collection of over 160 works. Now, after eight years of negotiations, their 17th-century painting attributed to Jan van der Heyden, View of a Dutch Square, is to be returned to their heirs.
The work was seized during the war and given to Hitler’s personal photographer and close friend, Heinrich Hoffmann. When the Nazis were defeated, the Bavarian State was meant to return the looted painting to its rightful owner, but instead, sold the work back to Hoffmann’s daughter in 1962 for 300 DM. The following year, she put it up for sale at Lempertz where it was purchased, in good faith, by the St. Victor’s Cathedral in Xanten for 16,100 DM. In 2011, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe submitted a restitution claim on behalf of the Kraus heirs to Xanten. 8 years later, the chairman of the cathedral’s foundation stressed that they would “voluntary surrender the work in recognition of the Nazi injustice.” It is nice to see that some people still do the right thing — even if it takes them a year, or two, or three…
Unfortunately, View of a Dutch Square was not the only work from the Kraus collection sold to Ms. Hoffmann. According to Ann Webber, of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, another landscape by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem was “handed over” to her in the 1960s and is still on the Art Loss Registry.
While this is a victory for the Kraus family, only seven of the 160+ works have been recovered.