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Book Review and Giveaway: “Hitler’s Art Thief”

Hitler's Art Thief

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to read an advance proof copy of Susan Ronald’s forthcoming book, Hitler’s Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis and the Looting of Europe’s Treasures. This book is slated to be published next month, on September 22, 2015. Ronald recounts and pieces together the story of Cornelius Gurlitt, a recluse who received a lot of media attention when over a thousand works of art were discovered in his Munich apartment in November 2013.1 Much of Cornelius’ collection was inherited from his father Hildebrand; the latter was an art dealer during the Nazi era who built his personal collection from the spoliation of museums and Jewish family estates. Susan Ronald’s book primarily is dedicated to telling the biography of Hildebrand, while simultaneously building up a broader context to explain the political and socio-cultural situation in Germany during WWI and WWII.

As an art historian, I felt like the latter third of the book (about the last one hundred pages or so) was especially interesting to me. This part of the book discusses underhanded ways in which Hildebrand Gurlitt amassed his collection, which included one twisted state of events that enabled Gurlitt to not even pay for any of the paintings he claimed at an auction of the Georges Viau collection in 1942!More than anything, though, I wanted to learn more about the stories behind some of the paintings which were stolen. Although Ronald focuses mostly on historical events regarding Hildebrand Gurlitt and his son Cornelius, there were snippets of information on paintings that I particularly enjoyed in this book.

Max Liebermann, "Two Riders on a Beach," 1901.

Max Liebermann, “Two Riders on a Beach,” 1901.

Ronald mentions Max Liebermann’s Two Riders on a Beach a few times in her book. This painting had been taken from the David Friedmann collection by Hildebrand Gurlitt. When authorities stormed Cornelius Gurlitt’s flat in 2013, they took this painting off of the wall, where it had hung for over four decades!3 Clearly, the Gurlitt family was proud of this purloined piece. Before that point, Cornelius’ father Hildebrand had hung this painting on his living-room wall in Dresden.4 The painting was returned to David Friedmann’s family. Two Riders on a Beach, was the first of the Gurlitt hoard to go to auction, was sold by Sotheby’s earlier this year in June.

Max Beckmann, "The Lion Tamer." Gouache and pastel on paper.

Max Beckmann, “The Lion Tamer.” Gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy Wikiart.

Beckmann’s The Lion Tamer is actually the piece which helped lead authorities closer to Cornelius and his collection. Cornelius put this piece up for auction at the Lempertz auction house in 2011. Ronald speculates that Cornelius may have opted to use this major auction house in order to get money quickly, perhaps to help pay his sister’s medical bills for her cancer treatments.4 When this painting went on the market, this major German auction house was contacted by layers who represented the family of Alfred Flechtheim, who had originally owned the painting during the Nazi era. Under pressure from these lawyers, Cornelius (who was the unnamed client selling the painting) agreed to split the proceeds with the heirs of the Flechtheim family. The Fletchtheim heirs felt that this action helped to at least acknowledge the wrongdoing which took place during the Nazi era, although I wish that they could have received all of the proceeds!

Matisse, "Seated Woman" or "Woman Sitting in Armchair."

Matisse, “Seated Woman,” “Woman Sitting in Armchair,” or The Seated Woman by an Open Window.

Susan Ronald also writes a few times about Matisse’s Seated Woman. I liked learning about this painting, which originally belonged to the Jewish art dealer David Rosenberg, since I recently wrote about another Matisse painting that was once owned by David Rosenberg. Unforunately, Seated Woman is still under controversy: despite the apparent fact that Hildebrand Gurlitt took this painting, there isn’t a concrete trail of evidence to pinpoint how Gurlitt came into possession of the painting. However, luckily, it is agreed that the painting did belong to the Rosenbergs. Although it has been announced that the Matisse painting will be returned, it is uncertain when the transfer will actually take place, due to this legal limbo.6

I think that Hitler’s Art Thief is a good book for history buffs and also for those who want a basic introduction to the art looting which took place during the Nazi era. Even as a seasoned art historian (who has read dozens of books and articles on Nazi looting), I learned new things too! And I’m pleased to announce that, through the generosity of St. Martin’s Press, one lucky winner will be able to receive a free copy of this book!

Be among the first to read this new publication by entering this giveaway! I will be randomly selecting one winner (using this site) on September 21, 2015. You can enter your name up to three times. Here are the ways you can enter:

1) Leave a comment on this post!

2) Tweet about the giveaway (be sure to include my Twitter name: @albertis_window in your tweet, so I can find it).

3) Write about this giveaway on your own blog or website, and then include the URL in a comment on this post.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for generously providing an advance review copy and giveaway copy of Hitler’s Art Thief.

1 Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in May 2014, bequeathed his collection to the Bern Art Museum in Switzerland. This action prompted outcry from Jewish groups, and the Bern museum is working to ensure that no looted art appears on Swiss soil. 

2 Susan Ronald, Hitler’s Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis and the Looting of Europe’s Treasures (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 226-229.

3 Ibid., 315.

4 Ibid., 313.

5 Ibid., 312.

6 Ibid., 319.

 

— 7 Comments

Book Review and Giveaway: “The Art of the Con” by Anthony M. Amore

This is certainly the summer for new publications on art crime – and the summer isn’t even over yet! When I learned that Anthony M. Amore wrote a new book called The Art of the Con, I was in the middle of reading another recently-published book on art forgery by Noah Charney. I was curious to see if Amore’s book would be similar in content to Charney’s fantastic book.

For the most part, there wasn’t too much overlap between the content of Charney and Amore’s books. Both authors do discuss the forger Wolfgang Beltracci, but Amore goes into more detail in his book. (Amore dedicates essentially a whole chapter to Beltracci, whereas Charney dedicates a few pages to Beltracci within his broader discussion how forgery relates to different types of crime schemes.) Amore also elaborated on a lot of art cons and schemes that were unfamiliar to me, so I found a lot of the subject matter to be new and riveting.

Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Amore’s previous publication, Stealing Rembrandts (see my review HERE). Like Stealing Rembrandts, this new book The Art of the Con is an engaging read. I quickly read this book within a matter of days, not only because the subject matter was interesting to me, but because Amore’s writing style is accessible and entertaining. My critiques of this book are very minor: there were a handful of sentences in which pronouns were used in a confusing way, and I also disagreed with Amore mentioning that Cezanne was a Cubist (although the artist influenced Cubism, I would say that most art historians typically refer to Cezanne as a Post-Impressionist).1

All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in art crime, particularly in connection with scams relating to the buying and selling of art. I want to highlight a few things from this book which were of interest to me:

Caravaggio (?) or Circle of Caravaggio, "Apollo the Lute Player," c. 1597. Private Collection, USA (Ex-Badminton copy)

Caravaggio (?) or Circle of Caravaggio, “Apollo the Lute Player,” c. 1597. Private Collection, USA (Ex-Badminton copy). Image courtesy Wikipedia

Since I own a copy of Clovis Whitfield’s book Caravaggio’s Eye, I was interested to learn in Amore’s book about how Whitfield worked to curate a show, Caravaggio, with another art dealer named Larry Salander. The centerpiece of the show was a painting called Apollo the Lute Player (shown above), which Whitfield and Salander believed to be an autograph version by Caravaggio.2 In fact, Salander appraised the painting at $100 million, which was about one thousand times its previous sale price of $110,000!3 However, due to Salander’s unethical and criminal behavior in the art market scene, which Amore explores in detail, Whitfield ended up pulling this star component of the exhibition on the afternoon of the show’s opening! Despite Whitfield’s apparent lack of involvement in Salander’s misdoings, the show never mounted as originally planned (although some pictures were shown elsewhere), which led the Telegraph to call the exhibition, “The Star Show that Never Was.”

Matisse, Oriental Woman Seated on Floor (Odalisque), 1928. Private Collection

Matisse, Oriental Woman Seated on Floor (Odalisque), 1928. Private Collection

Amore mentions in his book about how the Seattle Art Museum was involved in a law suit in 1998, in which the museum which sued the Knoedler Gallery in New York. The museum, in turn, was being sued by the heirs of the Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg. The Seattle Art Museum had received Matisse’s Oriental Woman Seated on Floor (Odalisque) (shown above) as a gift from Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. The Bloedels had bought the painting from the Knoedler Gallery about forty years before donating the painting to the SAM. However, the Knoedler gallery gave false information to the Bloedels about the provenance of the painting, failing to admit that the painting had been looted from Paul Rosenberg during the Nazi era.After returning the painting to the Rosenberg family, I know that the SAM and Knoedler Gallery settled out of court: I’m inclined to think that the gallery gave cash to the museum, since the other option from the agreement was to give the SAM one or more works from the Knoedler inventory, and I currently can’t find any mention of the Knoedler Gallery in the online collection.5

Glass art falsely purported to be by Dale Chihuly, as sold by Michael Little

Glass art falsely purported to be by Dale Chihuly, as sold by Michael Little. Image via U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Amore dedicates a chapter of his book to dealing with the art con and fraud which takes place online. I was intrigued by the story of Michael Little, a man from Renton, Washington, who purported to sell works by Dale Chihuly on eBay (one example of such fraudulent glassware is shown above). Even after eBay pulled Little’s listings after being alerted to the fraud, Little continued to sell the fraudulent glassware online, in person, and through a Renton auction house! One collector was swindled out of thousands of dollars, after he bought pieces that he intended to donate to Gonzaga University’s Jundt Art Museum.6 Little was sentenced to only five months in prison. I later found out, after finishing Amore’s book, that the judge sentencing Little commented that he wished he could also order Little to attend basic training in the Army!

I’ve learned a lot from reading The Art of the Con. I’m very glad that I read this book, and I’ll be sure to continue to use it as a resource in the future. I’m happy to announce that I can share this book with someone else, too! One lucky reader can win a free copy of this book! Local and international readers are equally encouraged to enter. I will be randomly selecting one winner (using this site) on August 17, 2015. So you have seven days to enter this giveaway! You can enter your name up to three times. Here are the ways you can enter:

1) Leave a comment on this post!

2) Tweet about the giveaway (be sure to include my Twitter name: @albertis_window in your tweet, so I can find it).

3) Write about this giveaway on your own blog or website, and then include the URL in a comment on this post.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for generously providing a review copy and giveaway copy of The Art of the Con.

1 For Cezanne reference, see Anthony M. Amore, The Art of the Con (New York: Palgrave MacMillan Trade, 2015), 114.

2 Ibid., 64-65. Other scholars contest Whitfield’s findings that the painting is autograph. For one example,  see footnote 3 in Florian Thalmann, Irony, Ambiguity, and Musical Experience in Caravaggio’s Musical Paintings (University of Minnesota, 2013), p. 4.

3 Ibid., 64, 66.

4 Ibid., 54.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 214.

— 9 Comments

Giveaway Winner and 2011 Recap!

Cover image of "Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed"

Congratulations to Val S., the winner of the Florentine Press giveaway, Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed! Val, if you could email me your mailing address information (see my email address in the sidebar), I can pass it along to the Florentine Press. Congratulations!

I hope that everyone has a wonderful 2012. I look forward to writing more posts (and learning more things!) in the upcoming year. This past year has been a fun and successful year for Alberti’s Window. Not only did I write sixty-seven posts this year, but I was able to move my content to this new site and design. Here are some links to my favorite AW posts from this past year:

It’s been fun for me to review my posts and look at the various things I discussed this year (although, admittedly, I wrote things with a slant toward Western/Renaissance/Baroque art). I love the diversity of my little blog, though. In some ways, my eclectic posts remind me of Vincent Desiderio’s Cockaigne (1993-2003, shown below). For ten years, Desiderio painted a canvas filled with open books. The book pages include miniature reproductions of his favorite masterpieces. The artists whose works are reproduced in Desiderio’s painting range from Masaccio to Vermeer to Picasso to Duchamp to Chuck Close. (If you want to learn more about this painting, I’d recommend that New York Times article, “A Ten-Year-Long Art History Course.”)

Vincent Desiderio, "Cockaigne," 1993-2003

I hope that in the upcoming year my humble little blog will offer an assortment of visual and scholarly pleasures, similar to Desiderio’s spread of paintings and books. Here’s to a great 2012! Happy art history-ing, too!

— 2 Comments

Book Review and Giveaway: “Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed”

Cover image of "Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed"

Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasure to read a new book on a female painter, Irene Parenti Duclos. This book, Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed, was published by the Florentine Press in October 2011. I wasn’t familiar with Duclos before reading this book; she was well-respected female painter in 18th century from Florence. This book was written (in part) to discuss the restoration of Duclos’ copy of Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna del Sacco (18th century, detail of Duclos’ copy appears on book cover above). Coincidentally, the restoration of the Duclos canvas occurred at the same time that Andrea del Sarto’s original fresco (1525) underwent restoration (compare del Sarto’s pre-restoration fresco to the restored version). Scholars were able to collaborate and learn more about Duclos (and the del Sarto fresco) during this restorative period. You can read a little more about the Duclos copy and restoration here.

Duclos' "Madonna del Sacco" (18th century) in the Accademia post-restoration

This book is great for a lot of different reasons. For one thing, I like that this book was written and promoted with the help of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation. (What a great cause!) I also like the book has appeal to a lot of different types of people: art historians, feminists, connoisseurs, and restorers. The book pages are divided to accommodate text in two languages (English and Italian), and therefore appeals to an international audience.

Book chapters are divided into different topics of interest. Some of the chapters are more technical than others (especially the last two chapters, which discuss the restoration of the canvas and the digital microscopy used in the process). Although these last two chapters were the most difficult for me to read (my art-historical brain isn’t used to scientific language!), I still thought the discussion was interesting.

As a feminist art historian, I was particularly interested the discussions on female artists. I liked reading a little bit more about Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Vigeé Le Brun, and other Italian female artists with whom I was not familiar before. Although Duclos was a painter in the 18th century, the discussion of female artists even expands to include the Renaissance artist, Suor Plautilla Nelli. I was happy to see that Nelli was discussed in detail; I learned just a little about her when I read Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, but I’ve had difficulty learning more biographical information about her. I also appreciated that this book served as a call to action. Nelli’s large-scale painting from the 16th century, Last Supper (which is the only known version of this subject matter produced by a female artist) is in dire need of restoration. Hopefully this publication will bring more exposure to the works of female artists that need preservation and attention.

Johann Zoffany, detail of "The Tribuna of the Uffizi," 1772-78

I also enjoyed reading the chapter on the fondness for copying art during the 18th century. Today I think that artistic copies often are viewed with some disdain, implying that the copy is of lesser quality than the original work of art. In the 18th century, however, copies were seen in a much more favorable light. The collecting of copies was seen as a mark of respectability and prestige. One of the paintings which typifies the 18th century rage for Italian works (and the copying of such paintings) is Zoffany’s The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772-78). Not only did Zoffany copy many great works of art to produce his final canvas, but he also includes an artist in the process of copying a work of art (see above)!

Along the lines of copying and prestige, though, I found it interesting that the book emphasized that 18th century female artists received acclaim as copyists and portrait artists.1 While I do think that this is true, I think it is also important to emphasize that women were still not considered capable of the highest level of achievement (i.e. history painting) as their male artistic counterparts. It seems to me that women only were acclaimed for the types of art which men found them capable of producing. A woman might be able to impressively copy or paint what she saw in front of her (as is the case with portraiture), but it seems apparent that women were also thought (by men) to lack the imagination and intellect necessary to create large-scale history paintings.

But enough of my little rant. This book is very interesting and an informative read. I highly recommend it. And now for the big news: a GIVEAWAY! I am able to offer a copy of this book free, thanks to the generosity of the Florentine Press. Local and international readers may enter this giveaway. I will be randomly selecting one winner (using this site) on December 31, 2011. So you have ten days to enter this giveaway! You can enter your name up to four times. Here are the ways you can enter: 

1) Leave a comment on this post!

2) Tweet about the giveaway (be sure to include my Twitter name: @albertis_window in your tweet, so I can find it). After tweeting, leave a comment on this post to let me know too, please.

3) Write about this giveaway on your own blog, and then include the URL in a comment on this post.

4) Become a fan of The Florentine on Facebook and enter your email address here (so we can cross-check it with your other entries) in the giveaway for a book by Linda Falcone – this way you have a chance to win yet another book! Please also leave a comment on this post, to let me know that you became a fan on Facebook.

While you wait to find out if you won a free copy of the book, check out this nice video of the book presentation.

1 Linda Falcone, ed. “Irene Parenti Duclos: A Work Restored, an Artist Revealed,” (Florence: Florentine Press, 2011), 18, 27.

Thanks to the Florentine Press for supplying the review copy of this book. Those who are interested in purchasing a copy of “Irene Parenti Duclos: An Work Restored an Artist Revealed” can find information here.

— 15 Comments

Announcing "Smithsonian" Winners!

Congratulations to Betty Richards and Erin F who won subscriptions to Smithsonian magazine through my giveaway! Comment #11 (by Betty Richard) and Comment #12 (by Erin F) were randomly selected as the winners:

Betty Richard: “Congrats on the milestone! That shows commitment!”

Erin F: “Congrats! So much wonderful art history on the web! And a great giveaway to boot! Keep writing!”

Betty and Erin, you have three days to contact me via email (albertis.window@gmail.com) in order to claim the prize and give me a mailing address.* If a winner does not come forth by that time, I will then randomly select a new winner.

Enjoy your subscriptions! Smithsonian is a fantastic magazine. I’ve enjoyed my subscription for several years, and I’m pleased to share Smithsonian with others.

*Your mailing address will not be used for any other purpose than the Smithsonian subscription.

— 2 Comments

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.