“Madonna and Child in a Landscape,” Lucas Cranach the Elder

War crimes against art

Nazi-looted painting on display at M&G is significant played significant role in art restitution history

Arts & Culture | Mar 25, 2016 | Cindy Landrum

“Madonna and Child in a Landscape,” a painting by German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, wasn’t the only painting stolen by the Nazis around World War II.

But it is significant for its role in art restitution history. The North Carolina Museum of Art received the painting in 1984 upon the death of Marianne Khuner, a Jewish World War II refugee and art collector. Later, the museum returned it to a pair of sisters who claimed it had been stolen from their great-uncle without taking the case to court.

The painting is now on display at Bob Jones’ University’s Museum and Gallery at Heritage Green as a part of its “The Art of Sleuthing” exhibit. It is on loan through June 5.

“The Art of Sleuthing” exhibit looks at art restitution from the CSI point of view, according to director Erin Jones. The exhibit features forensic methods used to authenticate paintings by the old masters, track ownership and determine forgeries.

Jones said the museum specifically negotiated to have the Cranach displayed this month because March is the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trial of Nazi mastermind Hermann Goering, who was largely responsible for the extensive art looting that took place across Europe in World War II.

Thousands of families, many of whom were Jewish, were stripped of their family heirlooms, which then adorned the homes and offices of the Nazi elite, including Goering’s.

“Madonna and Child in a Landscape” came to the North Carolina museum with little or no paperwork detailing its ownership history, said John Coffey, deputy director for art and curator of American and Modern Art at the museum.

In 1999, the museum received a letter from the World Jewish Congress representing the Hainisch sisters from Vienna. The painting had been stolen from the Hainisch’s great-uncle Philip von Gomperz, the letter said. The sisters said it had been in the possession of the Nazi governor of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, a close associate of Adolf Hitler and Goering.

The NCMA did extensive research. When a photograph of von Gomperz’s Cranach was discovered, a detailed comparison revealed it was the same painting. Instead of taking the matter to court, something other museums had done in previous looting cases, the museum expressed interest in purchasing the painting. The sisters sold the painting to the museum for half of its estimated $1.2 million value.

So you know // 

What: Nazi-looted painting owned by the North Carolina Museum of Art on loan for “The Art of Sleuthing” exhibition

Where: Museum and Gallery at Heritage Green

When Through June 5

Admission: Adults, $5; Over 60, $4; students, $4; and children 12 and under, free.

Information: 770-1331 or bjumg.org

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