When she was rising up in Paris, Pauline Baer de Perignon was usually instructed the similar tale about her great-grandfather, Jewish artwork collector Jules Strauss.
Strauss — a German Jew dwelling in Paris — owned a trove of Impressionist pics by Renoir, Degas, Monet and quite a few other individuals. But the stock industry crash of the 1930s forced him to sell considerably of his assortment, leaving his heirs nothing. He died in 1943 of old age.
Baer de Perignon hardly ever questioned this narrative, till 2014, when she bumped into her cousin, an artwork seller, at a live performance. After some small chat, he asked: “Did you know there was a little something shady about the Strauss sale? … I imagine Jules was robbed.”
“I was in shock,” Baer de Perignon said, adding that the revelation was like “hearing so a great deal information that your brain stops operating effectively mainly because it is just so big.”
Now, a person of Strauss’ paintings, “Portrait of a Girl as Pomona,” by classical painter Nicolas de Largillière, will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York Metropolis on Jan. 27 after a yrs-long quest by Baer de Perignon to show the work was stolen by the Nazis.
“There have been occasions where I desired to give up,” the 48-yr-old Parisian advised The Write-up of her almost 5-calendar year fight to get the German governing administration to return the painting. “But I knew it was essential … It was a issue of memory, of justice, of identification.”
Baer de Perignon files the experience in her new memoir, “The Vanished Collection” (New Vessel Push), and has now appear to NYC to celebrate her victory. The Largillière portray, which depicts the famed Marquise de Parabère — a favourite lover of Philippe II of France — as Pomona, goddess of fruit and abundance, is anticipated to fetch among $1 million and $1.5 million at the Sotheby’s auction.
And now, Baer de Perignon can convey to the real story.
Jules Strauss was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1861 to a notable banking family members. He moved to Paris in 1880 to perform as a overseas-trade broker, and by 1884 he was amassing Dutch and Flemish masters, as very well as 18th-century French painters like Watteau. Someday just after Earth War I, he stop his position to focus on gathering artwork full-time.
His treasures coated practically just about every inch of the condominium he shared with his spouse, Marie-Louise, and their a few children. They experienced to go away their residence soon after France surrendered to Germany in 1940 and the Nazis requisitioned it.
Two many years afterwards, the German job force charged with expropriating large Jewish artwork collections, the ERR, seized a storage unit that belonged to the Strausses, consisting of 69 crates stuffed with home furnishings and paintings.
Miraculously, the couple and their young children were being never deported to a camp. Jules and Marie-Louise ended up so determined to stay away from persecution that they got baptized as Catholics a calendar year before Jules’ demise.
For a prolonged time, Baer de Perignon experienced no concept if what her cousin stated about Nazis and stolen artwork was true. And then in 2016, when browsing a record of statements made to the French Looted Art Commission at the Looted Art Archives outside the house of Paris, she spotted the identify “Madame Jules Strauss.” Which is when she uncovered a file for a restitution declare submitted by Marie-Louise back in 1945.
“When I observed the file with the handwriting of my wonderful-grandmother — that is when I knew that she had been looted, that a little something happened,” Baer de Perignon explained. “It built me shiver.”
She set out to study everything she could about her wonderful-grandfather, and to piece with each other his dropped assortment, scouring auction data, interviewing historians and visiting archives in France, England and Germany. She even consulted a clairvoyant in a moment of desperation.
At the German Federal Archives, she discovered 600 pages of files that contains her grandmother Elisabeth’s statements, spanning from 1958 to 1974, from the German government — which made a decision that the spouse and children hadn’t supplied adequate evidence that the works listed experienced been stolen or despatched to Germany.
Baer de Perignon at some point arrived across Largillière’s “Portrait of a Woman as Pomona” on a web-site named German Misplaced Art Foundation. It had finished up in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen museum in Dresden in 1959, exactly where it had hung for six many years.
“I explained, ‘Okay, [the museum] knows it’s looted,” Baer de Perignon claimed. “I was a bit naive. … That was the commencing of several years of conversations where by I experienced to establish all that time that it belonged to my great-grandfather and it experienced been taken.”
Baer de Perignon combed via Strauss’ journals and recognized he stated the Largillière two times, with a be aware including that it experienced been marketed in 1941. The date gave her pause: A lot of Jews at the time were providing their art for lower sums after getting rid of their lender accounts, residence and corporations due to the fact they wanted funds to flee the nation. Later, she located the painting in a catalog of artworks that experienced been transported to Germany by shopgirl-turned-Nazi-collaborator Margot Jannson. Even though Jules had offered it for 400,000 francs, it was stated for 4.5 million.
Dresden’s Staatliche Kunstsammlungen was reluctant to give it up. Even after an investigation concluded that Strauss’ sale was a compelled one, the museum stated conditions had been “complicated” and supplied to get the painting 2018 from the loved ones.
“This was a next compelled sale: a restitution that was conditional on us agreeing to sell the portray to the museum,” Baer de Perignon writes. “When they spoke of ‘complicated’ situations, and pressured us to agree to promote again the painting, was this not, in a way, denying that it experienced been stolen — and so negating Jules’s record?”
Although Baer de Perignon was fearful about building the ideal decision, she refused the present even in advance of a value was presented. The museum then despatched her case to Germany’s Ministry of Arts and Culture and Finance Ministry, in which it languished quite a few additional many years. Baer de Perignon bought a attorney specializing in art restitution to aid compile a dossier of documentation proving the forced sale of the portray. Finally, the museum relented and, in January 2021, a truck arrived at her Paris apartment with the portray. She had won.
Baer de Perignon toyed with the concept of retaining the painting for herself, but understood she could not find the money for to pay out out her family members. (Moreover, she stated of the months that “Portrait of a Lady as Pomona” lived with her, “I was quite fearful — of the kids, the cat, the intruders! I had to set an alarm in my spot.”) Alternatively, the earnings from the sale will be split among the 20 heirs. They decided to sell with Sotheby’s, where Baer de Perignon’s cousin and uncle as soon as worked as art sellers.
The household has had another function, a modest drawing by rococo artist Giovanni Tiepolo, restituted to them from the Louvre, and Baer de Perignon remains on the hunt for others, even though she is not hunting as fiercely as she the moment did.
“I assume with the sale and the book start, it feels like the end of an experience,” she said.