Carnavalet Museum in Paris accused of retaining Holocaust looted assets In recent years museums all over the world have come under increasing pressure to conduct and publish exhaustive research into the provenance of any material in their collections that might qualify as Holocaust-related assets – objects looted by the Nazis. The vexed issue of restitution generally tends to focus on looted paintings, but one of the most high-profile of current cases concerns an important suite of 18th-century French furniture in the collection of the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.
The furniture – known as the Bouvier Collection – was allegedly looted from the forebears of Régine Elkan, a French citizen based in Avignon who in 2002 filed a restitution claim with the French State Commission in charge of Holocaust-related asset claims. Her claim with the CIVS was rejected.
Now Elkan has filed a lawsuit against the office of the French prime minister claiming that the CIVS, the Carnavalet Museum and the City of Paris refused to disclose the provenance information of the Bouvier Collection. She maintains that the objects are family heirlooms left to her parents by her maternal grandfather Adolphe Fraenkel (1860-1930), a wealthy industrialist whose 1929 will bequeathed a significant estate to his descendants, including, Elkan insists, the Bouvier Collection.
Elkan has also written to museum directors in Europe and North America to urge them to conduct thorough research into their collections in order to ascertain whether any more of her family’s possessions are being inadvertently held. She also wants museums everywhere to urge the Carnavalet Museum to act honorably with regard to the Bouvier Collection.
Elkan has also filed a claim in Germany with the Coordination Office for Lost Cultural Assets (Koordinierungsstelle fur Kulturgurverluste), a German government body in charge of Nazi-looted art claims. Elkan says she has filed the claim in Germany because of the substantial trading links between France and Germany during the period in question – particularly trade in fine French period furniture – and hopes that a German inquiry will add further substance to her claim.
Miraculous survivor to be exhibited at 2008 BADA Fair The Rhodes Missal – a 500-year-old lavishly illustrated prayer book that survived two of the most dramatic sieges of the 16th century – will be a highlight of the 2009 British Antique Dealers’ Association Antiques and Fine Art Fair at the Duke of York Square off Sloane Square on March 25-31.
The 108-folio manuscript prayer book, containing numerous beautifully preserved illuminations, is a treasure of the Order of St. John, founded in the late 11th century as a brotherhood of crusading knights. The order developed into the internationally renowned organization that today embraces the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and which provides care and medical help to millions of sick and elderly around the world.
The extraordinary circumstances of the missal’s survival read like a Dan Brown thriller. It was one a number of magnificent gifts given to the Order of St. John by Charles Aleman de Rochechenard, a Knight of St. John and one of its grand priors, in 1504. The order, which had a dual medical and military role during the Crusades, was based on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes following the Islamic reconquest of the Holy Land.
Eighteen years after de Rochechenard presented the Missal to the convent at Rhodes, the Turks attacked the island. The siege lasted six months at the cost of thousands of lives, but eventually the knights surrendered. They were were allowed to leave with some of their property, including the treasured missal.
The Order of St John resettled in Malta, but in 1565 that too was assaulted by the Turks. Amid scenes of appalling bloodshed, fewer than 9,000 men successfully defended the order against some 25,000 Turks in a siege still regarded as one of the most heroic defences in history.
Once again, the Rhodes Missal survived the siege. The prayer book is thought to have remained on Malta until 1798 when the island was seized by Napoleon, who confiscated many of the Order’s treasures. Thereafter the Missal vanished until 1929 when it came into the possession of a bookseller in Florence, from whom it was bought by the British Order of St John. Following its last public exhibition in Malta in 1970, it is now housed in the order’s library in Clerkenwell in London. It has not been on public show in Britain since shortly after its purchase in 1929.
The BADA loan exhibition, entitled From Jerusalem to Clerkenwell – The Extraordinary Journey of the Knights of St John, is sponsored by Aon, the specialist art and private client insurance brokers.
Rare manuscript at TEFAF Maastricht A rare manuscript will also be among the highlights of the 2009 European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. The beautifully illuminated 16th century manuscript known as Vita Christi – Life of Christ – a devotional text by Ludolphus Carthusiensis, will be offered for €2.4 million by Dr. Jörn Günther Antiquariat from Hamburg.
The 22nd edition of the European Fine Art Fair, which will take place at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre in the southern Netherlands from March 13-22, will for the first time include a section of 10 leading specialists in 20th century and contemporary design. Credit crunch notwithstanding, the 2009 fair is expected to have the largest-ever number of dealers – about 240 from 15 countries around the world.
Among the fine art highlights will be Black Stallion and his Groom by the Dutch artist Roelandt Savery, believed to have been painted for the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II in Prague in the early 17th century, which will be exhibited by De Jonckheere of Paris priced at €600,000.
Hermitage Amsterdam to open in June 2009 From June 2009, the expanded Hermitage Amsterdam will open in a newly restored 17th-century building – some 10 times the size of its previous home – in the heart of Amsterdam. The inaugural exhibition, entitled At the Russian Court will contain more than 1,800 treasures from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
Hermitage Amsterdam describes itself as “the only dedicated, independently managed venue in the West of St Petersburg’s magnificent State Hermitage Museum.”
At the Russian Court will remain on display in the new building until the end of January 2010. Hermitage Amsterdam will then stage two large-scale temporary exhibitions each year, aiming to “offer cultural riches that would otherwise be unavailable in Amsterdam.”
The Hermitage Amsterdam’s new home will be the classically proportioned Amstelhof, built in 1681-83 as a charitable home for the elderly, which has been renovated at a cost of approximately $50 million by Dutch architects Hans van Heeswijk and Merkx + Girod. The building, with more than 107,000 square feet of space, will feature a café/restaurant, concerts and lectures in the restored church hall, a 400-seat auditorium, retail stores, conference rooms and a courtyard garden designed by landscape architect Michael van Gessel. The adjacent Neerlandia building will become the Hermitage for Children, a special wing for education, with a programme of classes and workshops.
“The opening of Hermitage Amsterdam is the culmination of nearly two decades of planning,” said Ernst W. Veen, managing director of Hermitage Amsterdam. “At the same time, it is a continuation of more than 300 years of close ties between Amsterdam and St. Petersburg, going back to Czar Peter the Great’s fabled residence in our city.”
Veteran British sculptor donates major early work to London’s Courtauld Gallery Phillip King, one of Britain’s foremost sculptors and a former president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and his wife, novelist Judy Corbalis, have presented to the Courtauld Gallery one of King’s seminal early sculptures: Drift, 1961.
Ernst Vegelin, head of the Courtauld Gallery, said, “Since the founding of the Courtauld in 1932, we have relied almost entirely upon gifts and bequests of great generosity to build our extraordinary collection of works of art. We are thrilled to receive Drift, which will significantly enhance our modern British collections, an area which we are actively seeking to expand as we develop our 20th-century holdings in the years ahead.”
During the 1960s, King emerged as one of the leading figures of the celebrated New Generation group of British sculptors having studied under Anthony Caro at St. Martin’s School of Art. He later worked as an apprentice to Sir Henry Moore.
Drift is among a small group of works made at this time that marked the beginning of King’s radical new approach to sculpture. Abandoning his earlier figurative style, King explored an ostensibly abstract sculptural language while retaining strong connections with organic forms.
Drift is now on display in Room 14 in the Courtauld Gallery together with a newly displayed group of modern British paintings and sculptures.
Tom Flynn is a London-based writer and journalist. His monograph on British sculptor Sean Henry has just been published by Scala.