Skip to content

German auction house finds heirs of stolen painting in US


'Roses and Lilac' by German Impressionist Lovis Corinth, 1918. Van Ham image.
‘Roses and Lilac’ by German Impressionist Lovis Corinth, 1918. Van Ham image.


COLOGNE, Germany – Van Ham Fine Art Auctions has traced a valuable painting stolen prior to World War II to the heirs of its rightful owners in the United States.

The still life painting by Berlin Impressionist Lovis Corinth titled Roses and Lilac was consigned to Van Ham for the auctioneer’s autumn sale. In the course of thoroughly researching the painting, Van Ham’s catalogers discovered it had disappeared from a shipping company as its Jewish owners were hastily emigrating from Germany to the United States in 1936.

Originally the painting, created in 1918, belonged to Siegmund and Agatha Fischbein, who were friends of the artist. The work was then handed down to their daughter, Vilma, who, after marrying Walter Kristeller, assumed her husband’s family name.

Because of their Jewish ancestry, the Kristellers were pursued by the National Socialists, or Nazi party.

In September 1936 their belongings were packed and stored by Berlin haulage contractor Gustav Knauer. Among the stored effects were Corinth’s Roses and Lilac. The shipment took place on Oct. 22, 1937. It reached New York in May 1938, but some works of art were missing, among them the Corinth painting.

The painting was never shipped to New York, but sold as soon as Feb. 10, 1937 by the Gemalde-Galerie, a Berlin art gallery. Van Ham noted that these circumstances were unknown in the postwar years and therefore earlier attempts at restitution failed. Over time following generations of the Kristellers lost the knowledge of the missing painting.

Van Ham’s experts started to search for the heirs and finally located them in the U.S. A fair and equitable solution was mediated between the consignor and the heirs, who were represented by New York lawyer David J. Rowland, a specialist in the field of art restitution. The painting will be sold at Van Ham’s Modern Art auction Nov. 26, according to the terms of a restitution agreement.