Portrait of children’s author Judith Kerr’s father subject of Nazi-loot claim

A portrait of the German-Jewish theatre critic and essayist Alfred Kerr (1867-1948) by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) has been the subject of a recent Nazi-loot claim. The claim, which seeks to restitute the painting currently held at Berlin’s Stadtmuseum, has been rejected by Germany’s Advisory Commission for Nazi-looted art, who have announced it should remain in the museum’s collection.

The panel rejected the claim due to a lack of evidence, and even stated that another previous owner of the painting might have a stronger claim to ownership. However, the panel have acknowledged that as many as four families who were connected to the painting were, “oppressed, robbed, deported, driven to flee or murdered.”

The heirs who put forward the claim are descendants of Robert Graetz, a Jewish textile entrepreneur, who lost his life in the Holocaust. The portrait was a part of Graetz’s extensive collection of Impressionist and Expressionist art, much of which was lost as a result of persecution. However, the situation with the Corinth painting is complex. The panel said that Graetz purchased the painting from Leo Nachtlicht, a Jewish architect who died in Berlin in 1942, and whose wife was deported and murdered. The panel indicate that there is little evidence to suggest that Nachtlicht sold the painting before 1933, which would imply that his heirs would also have a claim to the painting. The panel states that, “we cannot rule out a sale after 30 January 1933 under circumstances that would today be deemed subject to restitution.”

A further complication lies in what happened to the painting after it was with Graetz. Graetz died in 1942 in a concentration camp. However, by this stage, the painting was already in the collection of a woman named Gertrud Kahle, who survived a period in a concentration camp, but killed herself shortly after the end of the war. Records demonstrate that Graetz was giving Kahle financial support, which could indicate a close relationship between the two. Berlin’s Stadtmuseum have suggested that this implies Graetz might have given the painting to Kahle as a gift, therefore the descendants of Graetz would not have a claim to it.

It is clear that all these individuals suffered persecution at the hands of the Nazis. However, the panel also points out that the family of Alfred Kerr, the subject of the painting, also suffered. Alfred Kerr fled to England where, in the 1970s, his daughter Judith Kerr wrote her renowned semi-autobiographical children’s books, including When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

Lovis Corinth also depicted other Jewish sitters later persecuted by the Nazis. Recently, his painting of the German-Jewish doctor Ferdinand Mainzer, who was an active member of the Solf Circle of intellectuals, has been accepted for the nation in lieu of tax, and will be owned jointly by the National Gallery in London and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.

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