Matisse in Norwegian museum was once Nazi loot

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm •  Published: April 6, 2013
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OSLO, Norway (AP) — The family of a prominent Parisian art dealer is demanding that a Norwegian museum return an Henri Matisse painting seized by Nazis under the direction of Hermann Goering, in the latest dispute over art stolen from Jews during World War II.

The painting at the center of the dispute, Matisse's 1937 "Blue Dress in a Yellow Armchair," depicts a woman sitting in a living room. It has been among the highlights of the Henie Onstad Art Center near Oslo since the museum was established in 1968 through a donation by wealthy art collector Niels Onstad and his wife, Olympic figure-skating champion Sonja Henie.

Museum Director Tone Hansen said it had been unaware the painting was stolen by the Nazis until it was notified in 2012 by the London-based Art Loss Register, which tracks lost and stolen paintings.

She said Onstad bought the painting in "good faith" from the Galerie Henri Benezit in Paris in 1950. The Benezit gallery "has no record of collaborating with the Nazis, as many galleries did," she said in an interview.

Although the war ended almost 70 years ago, disputes over looted art have become increasingly common in recent years, in part because many records were lost, and in part because an international accord on returning such art was only struck in 1998.

But the case of the Matisse is somewhat different in that its former owner, Paul Rosenberg, was one of the most prominent art dealers in Paris before the war, which he survived by fleeing to New York. Art Loss Register Director Chris Marinello said the records in this case are unusually clear.

According to a biography published by New York's Museum of Modern Art, Rosenberg was one of the preeminent modern art dealers of his day, and personal friends with Picasso and Matisse, among others.

Art Registry documents show he purchased "Blue Dress" directly from the painter, having noted the purchase in 1937 and put it on display in the same year, Marinello said. After the war, Rosenberg re-established his business and sought to recover more than 400 works that had been taken by the Nazis.

Marinello showed The Associated Press documents that name the piece now on display in Norway as among those missing after the war.

He slammed the Henie Onstad art museum for "stonewalling."

"The evidence is overwhelming. They just don't want to resolve this," he said.

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