> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Monet & Auerbach Changing Hands

May 3, 2024
A pastel drawing of a rocky seashore by Claude Monet

Bord de Mer by Claude Monet

This week saw two confiscated paintings make the news: in the United States, a Monet pastel drawing stolen by the Nazis may be returned to its owners’ descendants. Meanwhile, Britain’s National Crime Agency will auction off an Auerbach painting taken from a money launderer.

Bord de Mer is an early pastel by Claude Monet, executed in 1865. Adalbert and Hilda Parlagi, prominent Viennese art collectors in the 1930s, purchased the work in 1936. The Parlagi family had to leave their extensive art collection behind when they fled Vienna in 1938, shortly after Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Even though Adalbert was an Austrian citizen who converted to Christianity, raising his two children as such, according to Nazi race law, he was still considered a Hungarian-born Jew. The family left their collection in a warehouse, hoping to retrieve it after the war. However, the Gestapo seized the warehouse’s contents and sold the collection, including the Monet at Dorotheum. After researching its provenance, the FBI seized the painting in June 2023. That was when the drawing’s chain of ownership was uncovered: after being confiscated by the Nazis and sold at Dorotheum, the painting wasn’t seen again publicly until 2016, when the Galerie Helene Bailly of Paris lent it to an exhibition in Ornans. From there, the gallery sold it to an art and antique dealer in New Orleans, who sold it to a private collector in 2019. In late March of this year, the government filed a lawsuit as the current owner of the drawing for the district court in Louisiana to determine which of the interested parties will be awarded ownership. Though the court has not decided yet, it is widely suspected that it will hand the Monet over to the Parlagi family’s remaining descendants, cousins Françoise Parlagi and Helen Lowe. 

While the Monet made news in the US, over in the UK, a more recent work made the news. Britain’s National Crime Agency announced that it would auction off a confiscated painting by a living legend. Albert Street, 2009 is an abstract cityscape by Frank Auerbach showing the titular street in North London. Auerbach has done many works that show Albert Street. Since it is the location of his studio, the paintings in the series are rather personal for the artist. The NCA confiscated the painting from Lenn Mayhew-Lewis, who was convicted of money laundering last year and subsequently went on the run. Coincidentally, the NCA announced they had seized the painting on April 29th, Auerbach’s 93rd birthday. Mayhew-Lewis paid £1.6 million for the painting, with the investigation concluding that it was used as collateral for a £5 million loan. The NCA is currently waiting for anyone to make an ownership claim. Should no such a claim come forward, Albert Street, 2009 will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the NCA and the Home Office.