Claremont Insider: Lausanne, 1984: A Virtual Tour, Day Two

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lausanne, 1984: A Virtual Tour, Day Two


We continue today on our tour of the 1984 Fondation de l'Hermitage exhibit, l'Impressionnisme dans les Collections Romandes - Impressionism in the Collections of French-speaking Switzerland.

Although the exhibit had 123 works of art, we will focus on five particular paintings. These works are significant to us because according to ArtNews writer Stephen Koldehoff, all five were controlled by Bruno Lohse, a notorious Nazi art looter who made a career after the war dealing in art works, some of which Lohse had helped loot from people in the Nazi-occupied territories of Europe.

Lohse is relevant to us today because one of the five paintings, a springtime view of the Seine by Camille Pissarro, last year came to involve Claremont McKenna College professor Jonathan Petropoulos in a failed attempt to restitute the painting to the rightful owner, Gisela Bermann-Fischer. The affair resulted in a good deal of bad press for the professor, who last month resigned from his director's post at CMC's Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights.

When Bruno Lohse died in March, 2007, he left behind a secret Swiss bank vault controlled by Lohse's Liechtenstein foundation. When investigators opened up the vault, they found the Pissarro, along with a Renoir and a Monet which also appeared in the 1984 show. Records showed that Peter Griebert, a Munich art dealer, had visited the vault on many occasions since 1988. Griebert was Professor Petropoulos' partner in the attempted return of the Fischer-Pissarro, and Griebert is the subject of an investigation for the German equivalent of extortion for trying to collect a high fee from Ms. Fischer for the painting's restitution. The Los Angeles Times last month indicated that German authorities have not eliminated Petropoulos as a subject of investigation.

Petropoulos and Griebert spent some time at the Swiss bank containing Lohse's vault prior to meeting with Fischer in Zurich in January, 2007, and one of them (apparently Petropoulos) took some photos of the Pissarro as proof that they really knew where it was kept. Petropoulos has denied knowing the true ownership of the painting, clarified that he did not actually enter the vault but only viewed the painting in a conference room at Lohse's bank, and also has said he did not know of Griebert's involvement with Lohse's foundation. So, Petropoulos' main defense has been to plead ignorance and to say that he was merely guilty of being too trusting. But that seems to beg the question, what type of naive, trusting person makes a career of studying Nazis?

And, Petropoulos seems to have been acquainted with Lohse for some time prior to his 2007 meeting with Gisela Fischer over the Pissarro:

Click to Enlarge
Photo Credit: ARTnews, February, 2000
"Historian Jonathan Petropoulos, left, in Munich with Bruno Lohse, a former Nazi official he interviewed for his book."

But that story has been told elsewhere. We're here to see the paintings, and so we return to the 1984 exhibition, where the five Lohse-controlled paintings were publicly shown, possibly as the first step in creating a documented trail to make them more marketable at auction. We wonder, when CMC hired the law firm of O'Melveny and Myers to conduct the investigation that found no legal wrongdoing on Petropoulos' part, did the firm look into any connections between the galleries that exhibited suspected looted art and the auction houses that sold them?

As we wrote yesterday, no indication of the actual ownership of the majority of the show's paintings was given at the exhibit or in the accompanying catalogue of works. If one wanted to spruce up the history of a suspect work, the 1984 Fondation exhibit certainly would have been a good place to start. The Lohse paintings were simply attributed to a "Swiss Private Collection."

In any case, let us return to the show....

JUNE 17 - OCTOBER 31, 1984

The images and text we see today are drawn from the exhibit's catalogue, the cover of which we see to the right. As we indicated yesterday, the curator of the show was the late French art historian François Daulte whose own secret vault of paintings was discovered after his death in 1998 (for more, read the Koldehoff Summer 2007 ArtNews article). Daulte himself was the cataloguer for the 1984 show.

We include our own humble translations of the respective catalogue pages via the Insider Translation Services, beginning with the title page:



[Romandy is French-speaking Switzerland]


The organizers of the exposition
present at the occasion of the opening to the public of the Foundation of the Hermitage, thank all of the museums and private collectors who, with their generous loans, allowed this exhibition to take place.

Across its three sections, this retrospective presents a panorama of one hundred years of creative activity, from Corot to Bonnard.

The catalogue also includes an Abréviations page. This is a comprehensive list of the major scholarship used in reference to most of the exhibition paintings. The Abréviations page in turns points to catalogues raisonnés for the different artists. A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive list of all of an artist's known works. Inclusion in a given artist's catalogue raisonné makes a painting appear less suspicious, much less likely to appear lost to art history or possibly, for a potential buyer, less likely to have been looted.

The catalogue raisonné citations for the five Lohse-controlled paintings appear more than a bit weak. For instance, the Renoir later found in Lohse's vault shows up in none. And two others, the Corot and the Pissarro, mostly reference pre-World War II catalogues. The scholarship on the Sisley and the Monet appear to feature work by François Daulte and by Daniel Wildenstein, about whose family and their link to Jonathan Petropoulos we wrote several weeks ago.

Femme assise, tenant une Mandoline (1826-1828), Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

Jean-Baptiste Camille COROT

Femme assise, tenant une Mandoline (1826-1828)
Seated Woman, Holding a Mandolin

Oil on canvas, 34 x 26 cm.
Signed at bottom right: Corot.

"Robaut counted around thirty studies of Italian men and women which date from the artist's first visit to Rome between 1926 to 1828. The majority of them were still in his studio at the time of his death. These studies are more ambitious than simple notations taken on the fly. These little paintings reveal both a care for composition as well as a fluency of execution and an intelligent distribution of paint. One also observes that the model is posed, sitting with a attitude of concentration that is perhaps itself affected." (Hélène Toussaint).

In Seated Woman, Holding a Mandolin, the model's melancholy face is detached from the gray sky, and one sees the theme of the daydream – a leitmotif of Corot throughout his career – begin to emerge.

Collection: Painting given by Corot to one of his friends around 1873-1874; [property of] George Renand, Paris.

Literature: ROBAUT, Works of Corot, an Illustrated Catalogue Raisonné, Book II, Paris, 1905.

C. BERNHEIM DE VILLERS. Corot, Painter of Figures, Paris, 1930, No. 14, including reproduction; G. BAZIN, Paris, 1951, p. 34, reproduced in color, plate 20.

Swiss Private Collection

This painting's image was uploaded to Wikipedia Commons on 5/19/05, two days before the Alfred Sisley painting below was also uploaded. It is sourced in Wikipedia, like the Sisley image, to the mysterious Yorck Project.

The Corot and the Sisley were reported as not being in the Lohse vault last year, but the Koldehoff ArtNews article described them as controlled by Bruno Lohse's trust. Where are they now?

L’Abreuvoir de Marly (1875),
Alfred Sisley


L'Abreuvoir de Marly (1875)
The Basin at Marly

Oil on canvas, 46 x 61 cm.
Signed and dated, in lower right: Sisley, 75.

On the other side, Sisley has painted another outdoor scene depicting "The Washerwomen of Bougival."

During the three years he spent in Marly-le-Roi (1874-1877), in a small residence at No. 2, Route de l'Abreuvoir, Sisley captured the countryside in some twenty canvases painted near his home. From this period come several views of the Seine at Saint-Cloud, at Saint-Germain, or, at different times of day, several compositions which evoke the work of the washerwoman at Bougival—and above all scenes of flooding, painted for the most part in 1876.

The painting we exhibit shows in the foreground the walls of the basin of Marly, decorated in the 17th century with shells from the Antilles, and in the background houses which border the basin. With a marvelously sensitive eye, Sisley was able here to perceive the most delicate harmonies in nature, and succeeded in fixing them on the canvas for our delectation. Thanks to the recent research of Marie-Amynthe Denis, it is possible to compare photographs today of the basin in is current state with the paintings of Sisley, and to measure what in the work of the great landscapist is interpretation and what is faithfulness to reality.

Collections: Bernheim-Jeune, Paris; M. Faber, Castell; M. Thelen, Munich.
[ No dates or indications of when the painting changed hands. Castell is in Bavaria, and Munich is also in Bavaria and where Lohse lived.]

Expositions: Alfred Sisley, Art Museum, Bern, February 15 to April 13, 1958, catalog illustration No. 21.

Literature: François Daulte, Alfred Sisley, Catalogue Raisonné of Painted Works, Lausanne, 1959, illustration no. 158.
[Most of the literature on the painting seems to relate to Daulte.]

François Daulte, Sisley-Landscapes, Lausanne, 1961, p. 27 and p. 32; Kindler(?) Painting Encyclopedia, Book V, reproduced on pp. 360-361 in color; From Renoir to Vuillard, Marly-le-Roi, Louveciennes, and their surroundings, Promenade Museum of Marly-le-Roi-Louveciennes, March 22 to June 24, 1984, p. 113 with reproduction (and observations of Marie-Amynthe Denis).

Swiss private collection

The painting was identified as L'Abreuvoir de Marly-a-Roi (1875) by ARTnews last summer, and only as L'Abreuvoir de Marly in the 1984 catalogue. An image of the painting was put into Internet circulation nearly three years ago, introduced to French Wikipedia in May 2005, and given the new title Bassin de Marly (Basin of Marly). The painting is used to illustrate two French Wikipedia articles, one on Marly-le-Roi, the other on "Painters of the Yvelines", a sort of an online gallery mainly of Sisley's work.

Here is the Sisley jpeg on its French Wikipedia source page. As with the Corot, the image was uploaded to Wikipedia - on 5/21/05 in the case of the Sisley. Like the Corot, the Sisley image supposedly came from the Yorck Project, a database of paintings described as: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei [10,000 Masterworks of Painters]. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

A number of the other images on that French Wikipedia "Painters of the Yvelines" page also come from the Yorck Project DVD-ROM.

Although we don't know the specific image of Lavandières à Bougival painted on the reverse side of L'Abreuvoir de Marly, if we click on the Lavandières à Bougival on the French "Painters of the Yvelines" Wikipedia page, the image turns out not to have been painted not in 1868 as labelled in its caption on the article, but in 1875, making it a closer possible match for the reverse image of l'Abreuvoir de Marly-a-Roi, also painted in 1875.

Lavandières à Bougival also entered French Wikipedia from the Yorck project DVD Rom on 5/21/05.

So how did this Lohse-controlled painting get onto the German DVD-ROM, and then onto Wikipedia in 2005? As Lohse's safe was systematically cleared of paintings, did someone set out to seed certain images of paintings out into the world, perhaps as a way of opening a marketing opportunity or establishing a sense of legitimacy? Were they posted to Wikipedia to make them look acceptable and established, for want of a better provenance or history?

It is quite possible that Lohse, as he neared the end of his life, felt the urge to liquidate his collection. This isn't a simple matter of posting the paintings on Craigslist. If they were in fact looted, as was the case with the Pissarro, their ownership histories would have gaps. Why not try to make it look like these paintings have been in established collections for a long time, and even out on the web? What better vehicle than Wikipedia commons?

Vue de Vétheuil, l’hiver (1879),
Claude Monet

Claude MONET

Vue de Vétheuil, l'Hiver (1879)
View of Vétheuil, Winter

Oil on canvas, 60 x 81 cm.
Signed bottom right: Claude Monet

During the four years he lived in Vétheuil, Claude Monet painted several views of the village from the far shore of the river Seine. The very rigorous winter of 1879-1880 gave him the chance to depict the countryside in snow and cold. The Seine churning with ice inspired him to a series of "Débacle" paintings
["débacle" meaning the breaking up of ice], in which the lines are at once fluid and flowing. In the painting we display, a kind of harmony reigns despite the desolation… "The whole history of Monet during the cruel years in Vétheuil is read in this painting," wrote Marthe de Fels. 'I am literally without a penny,' complained Monet for his part, 'obliged to make requests, to practically beg for my existence, not having a penny to buy canvases and colors."

Collection history: Andrew Maxwell, Glasgow (Maxwell sale, Christie's, London, 3 June 1910, No. 59, sold to Durand-Ruel); Durand Ruel and Company, Paris.

Expositions: Monet, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, and National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 9 October 1982 to 30 January 1983, with catalog reproduction in color (No. 21).

Literature: WILDENSTEIN, Book 1, Number 552. D. WILDENSTEIN, Claude Monet, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, 1971, reproduced in color, p. 46.

Swiss Private Collection

Several questions regarding the Monet. First, what was it with Lohse paintings and Japanese museums? The Renoir below also made a couple appearances in Japan. Second, how did the Wildensteins obtain a color photo of the Monet? Also, what happened to the painting after 1910? Durand-Ruel was said to have kept good records of its sales, so what gives?

As noted, the Monet, like the Renoir and Pissarro, was still in Lohse's safe at the time of his death. In addition to the paintings found in his vault when Lohse died, 14 paintings are said to have left in recent years. What were they, and where did they go?

La Baie du Moulin Huet à travers les arbres
—Guernsey (1883),
Auguste Renoir


La Baie du Moulin Huet à travers les arbres - Guernesey (1883)
The bay of Moulin Huet from across the trees -- Guernsey

Oil on canvas, 46 by 55 cm
Signed and dated, in the lower right: Renoir, 83

At the beginning of September 1883, Renoir embarked for the Channel Islands with his wife and his friend Paul Lhote. After having visited Jersey, the three took up residence in a small pension on Guernsey, George Road No. 4. Renoir profited from his stay to paint several seascapes and scenes of bathers. He painted, in particular, three views of the Bay of Moulin Huet, including the one we display [in this exhibition]. "What a lovely little country!" wrote the artist to his friend Edmond Maitre on September 5, 1883. "What lovely roads! Extraordinary rock formations, and beaches like Robinson must have had on his island, plus steak and ale at affordable prices, everything up to now here is beautiful."

Collections: Purchased by Durand-Ruel from the artist on December 17, 1883 for 600 Francs; Durand-Ruel, Paris and New York (Sold by Durand-Ruel to Mr. Thompson on November 10, 1906); Mr. Thompson, New York (sold back by Mr. Thompson to Durand-Ruel on April 14, 1907); Durand-Ruel, New York (Sold by Durand-Ruel to Mr. Bellanger [NO DATE GIVEN]); Mr. Bellanger, Paris; Swiss Private Collection.

Expositions: Paintings by Renoir, Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York, January 5-30, 1924, catalog illustration No. 18; Auguste Renoir, State Gallery, Munich, November 5-December 14, 1958, catalog illustration No. 19; Renoir, Isetan Mseum of Art, Tokyo, September 26-November 6,1979, and Kyoto, Municipal Museum, November 10-December 9 1979,catalog illustration No. 34, reproduced in color.

Swiss Private Collection

As for provenance, it looks like Durand-Ruel bought and sold it several times over in its first few decades before selling it to an "M. Bellanger" in New York, who seems to have had it in his collection in Paris. The date and time of the sale aren't given. From there, it jumps to "Swiss Private Collection" and the 1984 exhibition.

The Renoir was apparently shown in 1958 in Munich, where Bruno Lohse lived and Peter Griebert later had his gallery. Like the Monet, it also took a trip to a show in Japan, appearing in a somewhat obscure show.

The Renoir made one more appearance prior to the 1984 show. It was featured on a stamp issued by the Balliwick of Guernsey as part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Renoir's visit to the island. That visit produced some remarkable landscapes, and this Renoir, assuming it is legitimate, is an important one.

Guernsey is a possession of the British crown. It's known as a picturesque island, perfect for a vacation spot, with low tax rates and a very profitable off-shore finance industry (think of the Cayman Islands).

Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps (1903),
Camille Pissarro


Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps (1903)
Quai Malaquais, Spring

Oil on canvas, 54 x 65 cm.
Signed and dated, in bottom right: C.Pissarro, 1903.

Several months before his death, in the spring of 1903, Pissarro continued to paint a number of views of Paris. In a letter of March 30th addressed to his son Lucien, the artist gives us invaluable insight into his work: 'I am doing at this moment a series of paintings from the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire: the Pont Royal and the Pont du Carrousel, and also the sweep of the Quai Malaquais with the Institute of France in the background, and to the left the banks of the Seine—superb motifs of light.' The view which we display of Quai Malaquais was painted in the morning, in slightly overcast weather.

There are other versions of the same depicted at different hours of the day, and often in full sunlight.

Collection: Madame S[amuel von] Fischer, Berlin Grunewald.

Exposition: Art Museum, Lucerne, 1950.

Literature: PISSARRO-VENTURI, Number 1290.

Swiss Private Collection

The obvious part of the story is left out here. The part about how the painting was smuggled out of Germany to Austria by the Fischer family and then stolen by the Nazis in 1938.

According to an article in Die Zeit, Samuel (von) Fischer bought the Pissarro from the German art dealer Paul Cassirer in 1907 for 3000 gold marks. It hung in the Fischer family home in Berlin Grunewald, the mansion colony to the west of Berlin. Publisher Samuel Fischer died in 1934, a year after most of his writers he worked with were banned by the Nazis. His widow, children and grandchildren fled to Austria in 1935.

As the catalogue notes, Pissarro painted a series of paintings from the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire (Pomona College's The Student Life could tell you about some of the others). The hotel still exists. It's a lovely place, not far from the Musée d'Orsay and across the Seine from the Louvre and the Musée de l'Orangerie, where you can see Monet's Nymphéas murals hanging on the curved walls of their grand oval rooms. The hotel used to be a good bargain but it's been years since the Insider staff had its annual conference there and that was long before the dollar nosedived. You can still stay there today and, if you're lucky, enjoy something quite similar to this view.