MONTREAL — Two valuable paintings of former Dutch masters, despoiled by the Nazis in the late 1930s, were returned to the beneficiaries of a German Jewish art dealer exiled to Canada, said Monday the Max-Stern Foundation. The paintings, “Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea,” by the marine artist Jan Porcellis (1584-1632), and “Landscape with Goats” by the animal painter Willem Buytewech the Younger (1625-1670), were recovered from an auction in Germany, which facilitated their restitution.
They were presented to the Max-Stern Foundation and its three beneficiary institutions, Concordia and McGill universities in Montreal and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These are “little jewels,” Clarence Epstein, director of the Max-Stern Foundation at Concordia University, told AFP.
For 14 years Epstein, an art historian, has been fighting to seek justice for Max Stern, a German Jew forced by the Nazis in 1937 to close his art gallery in Dusseldorf and sell at low prices more than 400 paintings in order to be allowed to flee to England and then to Canada.
These are the 14th and 15th paintings to be returned to the foundation, whose mission retrieving artwork looted by the Nazis is “the most important of its kind in the world,” according to Epstein. The Porcellis painting had been placed with the Metz auction house in Heidelberg in southwest Germany, while the Buytewech was deposited at the Stahl house in Hamburg. The owners, who had acquired them well after the Second World War, were unaware that they had been sold under duress, Epstein said. Contacted by intermediaries of the foundation, the consignees accepted “in good faith” to hand over the pricey canvases, even though they had no legal obligation to do so. “There are other works that have escaped us this year because the people did not want to be so generous,” Epstein said. A new charity named “German Friends of the Hebrew University” will launch a program next year to encourage people to hand over Max Stern’s artwork in exchange for a tax deductible receipt. Most of his lost artwork has been found in Germany, according to Epstein.