Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

Museum Huelsmann returns figurines to Jewish heir

Date 2017.01.12

Mu­se­um Huels­mann is giv­ing two porce­lain fig­urines back to their right­ful heir, Bertha L. Gut­mann. The fig­urines of “Girl feed­ing chick­ens” and “Boy with cat and dog” have been iden­ti­fied as Nazi-con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty.

Gut­mann is the niece of Jew­ish busi­ness­man Hein­rich Roth­berg­er (1868–1953), a tex­tile mer­chant and one of Vi­en­na’s most promi­nent art col­lec­tors. Af­ter the an­nex­a­tion of Aus­tria by the Na­tion­al So­cial­ist Ger­man Re­ich in 1938, he was in­creas­ing­ly sub­ject­ed to re­stric­tions. Roth­berg­er and his wife de­cid­ed to leave the coun­try in Novem­ber 1942, trav­el­ing first to Barcelona and then Cu­ba be­fore set­tling in Cana­da. Roth­berg­er had al­ready raised the mon­ey need­ed for em­i­gra­tion in ad­vance by sell­ing part of his art col­lec­tion. The fig­urines were sold at an auc­tion in Berlin in 1938 for 500 Re­ichs­marks. No in­for­ma­tion about the buy­er is avail­able to this day. The fig­urines re-emerged in 1984, as part of the es­tate of Biele­feld man­u­fac­tur­ers Gertrud-Agathe and Friedrich-Karl-Au­gust Huels­mann, which was in the pos­ses­sion of the city au­thor­i­ties at the time. It is not known when the fig­urines were ac­quired by the col­lec­tors.

Roth­berg­er’s heir, Bertha L. Gut­mann, wrote a let­ter to the mu­se­um at the end of 2014 in which she made a claim to the two fig­urines. The mu­se­um sub­se­quent­ly re­searched the prove­nance of the fig­urines and con­clud­ed that Gut­mann was en­ti­tled to re­ceive the art­works back.
This de­ci­sion al­so prompt­ed Mu­se­um Huels­mann to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ex­am­ine the prove­nance of its ex­hibits as part of a long-term project fund­ed by the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion.