Museum Huelsmann returns figurines to Jewish heir
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.