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Damp squib for controversial ‘Hitler’ painting auction

Five paintings attributed to Adolf Hitler failed to find buyers at an auction Saturday held amid anger at the sale of Nazi memorabilia.

Damp squib for controversial 'Hitler' painting auction
The five paintings and vase and wicker chair sporting the Nazi swastika. Photo: Daniel Karmann / AFP
High starting prices of between 19,000 and 45,000 euros ($21,000 and $50,000) and lingering suspicions about the authenticity of the artworks were thought to have scared off potential buyers.
   
The Weidler auction house did not comment on the reasons for the failure but said the paintings could yet be sold at a later date.
 
The satirist and cartoonist Karl Sharro joked that this was not the first time Hitler's paintings had failed to attract a buyer. 
 
 Nuremberg's mayor Ulrich Maly had earlier condemned the sale as being “in bad taste”.
   
Among the items that failed to sell were a mountain lake view and a painting of a wicker armchair with a swastika symbol presumed to have belonged to the late Nazi dictator.
 
 
The Weidler auction house held the “special sale” in Nuremberg, the city in which Nazi war criminals were tried in 1945. Days before the sale a number of the artworks were withdrawn on suspicion  they were fakes with prosecutors stepping in.
 
 
Sales of alleged artworks by Hitler — who for a time tried to make a living as an artist in his native Austria — regularly spark outrage that collectors are willing to pay high prices for art linked to the country's Nazi 
past.
 
“There's a long tradition of this trade in devotional objects linked to Nazism,” Stephan Klingen of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich told AFP. “Every time there's a media buzz about it… and the prices they're 
bringing in have been rising constantly. Personally, that's something that quite annoys me.”
 
'Ambitious amateur'
 
In Germany, public displays of Nazi symbols are illegal but exceptions can be made, in educational or historic contexts for instance. To comply with the law, the auction house pixellated the swastikas on the wicker chair and a blue-and-white Meissen porcelain vase in catalogue photos, and covered them up on-site. But none of the paintings included any of the totalitarian party's insignias.
   
According to Klingen, Hitler had the style of “a moderately ambitious amateur” but his creations did not stand out from “hundreds of thousands” of comparable works from the period — making their authenticity especially hard to verify.
   
The watercolours, drawings and paintings bearing “Hitler” signatures featured views of Vienna or Nuremberg, female nudes and still life works, the auction house said. They were offered by 23 different owners. 
   
Prosecutors on Wednesday collected 63 artworks from the Weidler premises bearing the signature “A.H.” or “A. Hitler”, including some not slated to go under the hammer.
   
Nuremberg-Fuerth prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation against persons unknown “on suspicion of falsifying documents and attempted fraud”, chief prosecutor Antje Gabriels-Gorsolke told AFP.
   
“If they turn out to be fakes, we will then try to determine who knew what in the chain of ownership,” she said.
   
Weidler said in a statement that the paintings' withdrawal from sale did “not automatically mean they are fakes”.

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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.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

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.

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