SAN FRANCISCO, May 12, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- A significant oil painting by a famed 19th Century French painter and two rare Egyptian mummy portraits also known as "Fayum Portraits" are the latest artifacts recovered by the Mosse Art Restitution Project, an investigation and recovery effort run by the Investigative Unit of San Francisco law firm Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller.
The City of Cologne this week voted to provide full restitution to the heirs of Erma Felicia Lachmann-Mosse and Walter Westfield for the painting "Bouquet of Flowers" by 19th century artist Narcisso Virgillo Diaz de la Pena. The painting was part of a collection of art originally owned by Jewish newspaper publisher Rudolf Mosse. The art collection was looted from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933, and auctioned in 1934. His sole heir, Erma Felicia Lachmann-Mosse and her husband, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, managed to flee Germany, first to France and later to the United States.
William Westfield, a Jewish art dealer, purchased the painting at the auction, but his entire collection was also seized by the Nazis and sold at auction in 1939. Westfield was later arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was killed. In 1960, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne obtained the still-life as part of a large donation. The City of Cologne, working through the Mosse Art Restitution Project, agreed to split restitution evenly between the heirs of both families.
The Mosse Art Restitution Project was also recently responsible for the recovery of two mummy portraits from the University of Zurich. The portraits, painted on wood, date from the first or second century AD and are of a young man and a young woman. The University had purchased the portraits in 1979 along with seven other mummy portraits from Paulette Goddard-Remarque, the widow of writer Erich Maria Remarque, the author of the famous World War I novel, "All Quiet on the Western Front."
Erich Maria Remarque was a pacifist who was persecuted by the National Socialists during Hitler's regime and deprived of his German citizenship. It is assumed that Remarque acquired the portraits directly from the Lepke auction of the Rudolf Mosse Art Collection in 1934.
The University of Zurich launched its own investigation into the provenance of the portraits in 2015 and reached out to the Mosse Art Restitution Project, which had by then made the public aware of its investigation and restitution effort. The University agreed to full restitution after the works were certified as coming from the original collection of Rudolf Mosse.
In 2012, Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller was approached by the Mosse Foundation to organize a search for the Mosse Art Collection. In 2014, after an intensive initial investigation that located enough items to warrant further investment, letters were sent to museums and universities in Germany and Switzerland that had been identified as having obtained items from the Mosse Art Collection. Until being notified, the curators were largely unaware that they were in possession of items confiscated by the Nazis.
The success of the effort to date stands in marked contrast to earlier attempts by Mosse heirs to locate items from the family art collection. J. Eric Bartko, who manages the Mosse Art Restitution Project and is the Director of Investigations at BZBM, believes this is in large part due to Germany's adoption of the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. Despite the pact being written as non-binding, Germany has chosen to bind its public institutions to these principles.
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