Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

Project Gurlitt identifies painting by Thomas Couture as Nazi-looted art

Date 2017.10.25

A tiny re­paired hole point­ed the prove­nance re­searchers to Georges Man­del. This de­tail en­abled the Gurlitt Prove­nance Re­search Project team to iden­ti­fy the paint­ing Por­trait de je­une femme as­sise (Por­trait of a Seat­ed Young Wom­an) by Thomas Cou­ture as Nazi-loot­ed art. The art­work be­longed to one of the most fa­mous French vic­tims of the Nazi regime, the high-rank­ing Jew­ish politi­cian and an­ti-Nazi Georges Man­del. Man­del was de­tained by the Na­tion­al So­cial­ists as an Ehren­häftling, or pris­on­er of hon­our, in the Ger­man camps, and mur­dered in Ju­ly 1944 by the French mili­tia in the for­est of Fontainebleau. His Paris apart­ment was tar­get­ed by Ger­man art-loot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions at an ear­ly stage.

Moni­ka Grüt­ters, Fed­er­al Com­mis­sion­er for Cul­ture and the Me­dia, ex­plained: “The fact that the re­searchers have been able, through their metic­u­lous and un­stint­ing work, to iden­ti­fy the paint­ing by Thomas Cou­ture as Nazi-loot­ed art demon­strates once again how im­por­tant it is not to let up in our ef­forts in the field of prove­nance re­search. I hope very much to see this work re­turned prompt­ly to the de­scen­dants of the orig­i­nal own­er. We owe it to the peo­ple who were per­se­cut­ed by the Na­tion­al So­cial­ists, de­prived of their prop­er­ty and their rights, and in many cas­es mur­dered, to leave no stone un­turned in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and clar­i­fy­ing the Nazi loot­ing of art. It is and re­mains our moral obli­ga­tion in cas­es of art­works seized by the Nazis to find fair and just so­lu­tions.”

A tiny tech­ni­cal de­tail point­ed the Gurlitt Prove­nance Re­search Project team to Georges Man­del. Bare­ly de­tectable at first sight with the naked eye, the Por­trait of a Seat­ed Young Wom­an by Thomas Cou­ture from the Gurlitt art trove has a re­paired hole at the lev­el of the sub­ject’s chest. And pre­cise­ly this in­for­ma­tion was not­ed by some­one, prob­a­bly the leg­endary French art con­ser­va­tor Rose Val­land, in the course of the of­fi­cial fil­ing of claims di­rect­ly af­ter the war. But the lost Cou­ture paint­ing was de­scribed on­ly in vague terms, which, giv­en the nu­mer­ous por­traits of so­ci­ety wom­en by the pop­u­lar painter, rep­re­sent­ed a chal­lenge for the prove­nance re­searchers. Nev­er­the­less, the lit­tle hand­writ­ten note en­abled them to trace it. With the as­sis­tance of the re­stor­ers at the Bun­deskun­sthalle (Art and Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall of the Fed­er­al Re­pub­lic of Ger­many), where the pic­ture is cur­rent­ly be­ing held as prepa­ra­tions con­tin­ue for the ex­hi­bi­tion “Gurlitt: Sta­tus Re­port”, the Gurlitt paint­ing was again metic­u­lous­ly ex­am­ined. This led to the dis­cov­ery of a re­paired hole at chest lev­el. An­oth­er cru­cial doc­u­ment, signed by Eber­hard Frei­herr von Küns­berg, turned up in the Po­lit­i­cal Archive of the For­eign Of­fice in Berlin:

“In the ex­e­cu­tion of the […] or­der to se­cure art owned by Jews in France, the prepa­ra­tions were car­ried out with­out de­lay[... I (Küns­berg) ob­tained] ap­proval for the Se­cret Field Po­lice to be de­ployed to se­cure Jew­ish art col­lec­tions and place them in the safe­keep­ing of the Ger­man em­bassy. The new op­er­a­tion, in which sev­er­al ex­perts from my com­mis­sion are like­wise in­volved, be­gan to­day with the search­ing of the apart­ment of the Jew Man­del.”
This pre­sum­ably led to a se­ries of art­works, most prob­a­bly in­clud­ing the Cou­ture paint­ing, be­ing tak­en to the Ger­man em­bassy in Paris.

A claim was filed for the re­turn of the Cou­ture paint­ing from the es­tate of Cor­nelius Gurlitt. The Gurlitt Prove­nance Re­search Project has in­formed the claimant of its find­ings. This is the sixth case of loot­ed art that the re­searchers have un­cov­ered since the ap­point­ment of the Schwabinger Kun­st­fund task force.

The paint­ing found in the es­tate of Cor­nelius Gurlitt in Schwabing has been pub­lished in the Lost Art Database since 2013 (