Private collector claims innocence in restitution tussle

A private art collector has vowed to defend himself against a restitution claim for a painting by Andreas Achenbach.

Wolfgang Peiffer lent a number of works from his private collection for an exhibition at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf in collaboration with the Museum L8A in Baden-Baden. Among the loans was Achenbach’s ‘Sicilian Landscape’ (1861), which has been claimed by the heirs of Jewish art dealer Max Stern. After it was registered as a missing work by Interpol and on the German database lostart.de the painting was recognised by a researcher at the L8A exhibition. When New York’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) tried to contact Peiffer about the work he did not respond.

Stern was forced to sell the artworks from his gallery in Düsseldorf after the Nazi regime prohibited him from practicing as a dealer from 1935. The Achenbach is recorded among the works sold as part of this liquidation. The painting re-emerged at Phillips auction house in London where it was purchased by Peiffer in 1999. It is one of around 400 paintings from Stern’s collection sought for recovery by the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which was established in 2002. To date, 16 paintings have been recovered by the foundation.

Peiffer’s lawyer, Ludwig von Pufendorf, insists his client was never contacted by the HCPO and that he would “not allow this painting to continue to be listed on the lostart.de database and will seek recourse in court to uphold his rights if necessary”. Pufendorf has called on Stern’s estate to prove Stern’s ownership of the painting. Peiffer maintains that Stern consigned the work for sale in a “perfectly normal gallery transaction”. Meanwhile, the Achenbach painting has been removed from the Kunstpalast exhibition.

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