Nazi-looted painting found in Swiss museum

A painting looted from a Berlin Jewish family by Nazis has been found by US authorities at the Kunsthaus museum in Zurich, museum officials said on Tuesday.

Nazi-looted painting found in Swiss museum

Confirming a report by local media, the museum said that the painting was an 1887 portrait called Madame La Suire by Swiss painter Albert von Keller, who was popular in Berlin and Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century.

The painting was acquired by the Sommerguths, a rich Jewish couple from Berlin who had a substantial collection of 106 paintings, including Renaissance masterpieces as well as works by Camille Pissaro.

But after the Nazis came to power in Germany, they were forced to give up the collection, which was sold during an auction in 1939.

Alfred Sommerguth, who acquired his fortune as co-director of the German tobacco manufacturer Loeser & Wolff, managed to flee to Cuba in 1941 at the age of 82, before reaching New York where he died a destitute in 1950.

His wife Gertrude died four years later.

The painting was found by chance, during an exhibition on von Keller organised by the Zurich museum.

“We had received a heritage donation of 350 von Keller paintings from the widow of a rich Zurich collector, on condition that we organise an exhibition of the paintings,” said a museum spokesman.

In New York, the authorities charged with finding paintings stolen or confiscated from Holocaust victims noticed the portrait and sought explanations from Zurich.

It turned out that the donation to the museum was made in 2006, after the death of the widow of Oskar Mueller, a von Keller collector.

After the origins of the painting were verified, the Sommerguth heirs decided to leave the painting with the Zurich museum. However, they asked for a sign be put up to indicate its origins and the fact that it was part of Nazi spoils.

According to the museum’s spokesman, the painting is worth an estimated 10,000 francs ($10,982) today.

An investigation is ongoing regarding the origins of two other paintings from the Müller collection, said the spokesman.

It is not the first time that a painting from the Sommerguth collection was found. In 2008, another painting was found on a Sotheby’s auction catalogue.

Titled “Scene of a forest with a castle, on the water front,” by Karl Blechen, the work was then taken off the sale and returned to the family’s heirs.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.