Nazi looted painting repatriated to Jewish family by FBI

Discovered at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, a Nazi looted painting has finally been returned to its rightful heirs after almost 90 years. This recent recovery is part of an international effort involving the FBI to restitute more than 1,000 artworks and artefacts seized in 1933 from the Mosse family, who were prominent Jewish residents of Berlin.  

The Mosse family lost nearly everything because they were Jews. But they did not lose hope,” remarked acting United States attorney Antoinette T. Bacon during the repatriation ceremony, which was held at the Albany FBI office on 15 October 2020. “Injustices do not stand — no matter how long ago they were committed,” she added. 

Winter’ was painted around 1880 by impressionist artist Gari Melchers (1860-1932), who became one of the leading figures in the American naturalism movement. It depicts a pair of young rosy-cheeked skaters heading to a frozen lake.  

The trail for the lost painting was picked up in 2017, after the Arkell Museum posted an image of the festive painting to Facebook alongside the message “Enjoy Winter!”. A student of Dr. Meike Hoffmann, who heads the Mosse Art Research Initiative, recognised the artwork from the post and fortuitously triggered a three-year restitution case.  

Melcher’s piece was purchased in 1900 by publishing magnate Rudolf Mosse. He displayed it in a grand Berlin residence until his death in 1920, after which his only daughter Felicia inherited the impressive collection. Following in her father’s footsteps, Felicia was a progressive political thinker and ran the Berliner Tageblatt newspaper with her husband Hans Lachmann-Mosse. The couple became targets of the Nazi Party as symbols of the hated “Jewish press”, due to their outspoken criticism of Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) power. By 1933 the Nazis had confiscated the Mosse family assets, selling the artworks at auction and forcing the couple to flee Germany.  

By October 1934 the painting had found itself in New York’s Macbeth Art Gallery, where it came to the attention of collector Bartlett Arkell. He bought the painting unaware of its provenance and years later it passed into the collection of Bartlett’s namesake museum.  

The Mosse family lost nearly everything because they were Jews. But they did not lose hope,” remarked acting United States attorney Antoinette T. Bacon during the repatriation ceremony, which was held at the Albany FBI office on 15 October 2020. “Injustices do not stand — no matter how long ago they were committed,” she added. 

 ‘Winter’ was painted around 1880 by impressionist artist Gari Melchers (1860-1932), who became one of the leading figures in the American naturalism movement. It depicts a pair of young rosy-cheeked skaters heading to a frozen lake.  

The trail for the lost painting picked up in 2017, after the Arkell Museum posted an image of the festive painting to Facebook alongside the message “Enjoy Winter!”. A student of Dr. Meike Hoffmann, who heads the Mosse Art Research Initiative, recognised the artwork from the post and fortuitously triggered a three-year restitution case.  

Melcher’s piece was purchased in 1900 by publishing magnate Rudolf Mosse. He displayed it in a grand Berlin residence until his death in 1920, after which his only daughter Felicia inherited the impressive collection. Following in her father’s footsteps, Felicia was a progressive political thinker and ran the Berliner Tageblatt newspaper with her husband Hans Lachmann-Mosse. The couple became targets of the Nazi Party as symbols of the hated “Jewish press”, due to their outspoken criticism of Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) power. By 1933 the Nazis had confiscated the Mosse family assets, selling the artworks at auction and forcing the couple to flee Germany.  

By October 1934 the painting had found itself in New York’s Macbeth Art Gallery, where it came to the attention of collector Bartlett Arkell. He bought the painting unaware of its heinous provenance and years later it passed into the collection of Bartlett’s namesake museum.  

It was one of the first large expropriations undertaken by the Nazis, a template for what became, unfortunately, a well-oiled machine,” explained Roger Strauch, president of the Mosse Foundation and the step-great-grandson of Rudolf Mosse.  

Although FBI agents recovered ‘Winter’ in September 2019, the formal handover to the family was delayed until recently because of the pandemic. “While it’s believed there were hundreds of thousands of pieces of art stolen by the Nazis, our office is extremely proud to help right even just one wrong done during this evil period of world history,” revealed Assistant FBI Special Agent Peter Magnetto at the press conference. 

The Mosse Art Restitution Project has completed more than 50 restitutions since 2011, across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel and the United States. 

This battle will never be over,” concluded J. Eric Bartko, Manager of the Mosse Art Restitution Project. “This is a highly visible way to remind people that these crimes took place in the past and they are still being redressed now.” 

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