September 14, 2011
Jewish-owned painting returned to heirs
A painting sold under duress by its Jewish owners during World War II was restituted to his heirs.
The painting, “Madame La Suire” by Albert von Keller, was returned Tuesday to the estate of Alfred Sommerguth with the help of New York’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office. It was sold by Sommerguth under duress on Feb. 7, 1939 at the Hans W. Lange auction in Berlin. It was the fourth painting returned to the Sommerguth estate in the past three years.
Sommerguth, director and co-owner of the tobacco company Loeser & Wolff, was an official of the Ministry of Interior in Berlin in charge of city planning when the Nazis came to power. In the late 1930s he was forced to register all of his assets with Nazi authorities, including his art collection of 106 assorted Renaissance masterpieces and Impressionist works. Evading internment at a concentration camp, Sommerguth fled Germany to Cuba in 1941. He eventually moved to New York, where he died in 1950.
The painting, which was located in the Zurich Kunstgesellschaft Museum in Switzerland, will remain in the collection as a donation, with its provenance indicating that Sommerguth was deprived of the painting by the Nazis in 1939.
The Holocaust Claims Processing Office, created in 1997, is a joint venture of the New York State Banking Department and the New York State Insurance Department.