The museum says they own it legitimately, but the grandchildren of the previous owner say it should be returned for the way it left their heirs.
Houston — A dispute over 18th-century works of art has landed the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in federal court.
MFAH wants to keep the painting. Those who are trying to take it are the grandchildren of German businessmen who say they sold art by being forced by a Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s dealer.
From the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Hitler confiscated cultural properties of other countries, including art, during World War II.
During the war, there were efforts by allies to regain the stolen art. The people who lead the movement have become known as monuments. In 2014, George Clooney starred in a movie based on a book by Robert Edsel that documented their efforts.
“Trying to protect cultural properties from the destruction of war,” Edsel said of the current problem.
Edsel said they continue to make use of their efforts today through the Monument Men Foundation. That’s where MFAH comes in.
The painting in question is the “Pirna Market” by Bernard Bellott, circa 1764. It is believed to have been presented to the museum by art collector Samuel Cress in 1961.
One of the arguments is that the painting was once owned by German businessman Max Emden. His descendants claim that his property was confiscated by the German Nazis, forcing him to sell his paintings to Hitler’s art dealer Karl Haberstock.
“When you get rid of what they earned and spent their lives on, they will make any decision they have to make to survive,” Edsel said.
MFAH claims that this is not the case. In a statement, the museum has evidence that Emden bought the paintings in another country and then sold them to Harborstock at the asking price. According to the museum, the sale was voluntary.
“I want someone to explain how there can be an equal competition when you are negotiating with Adolf Hitler, and when you are Jewish,” Edsel said. “There is nothing that changes the fundamental facts. In my view, it’s enough for the museum to say.” This stinks heaven. We should return the painting. “
Edsel said there was much opposition to the museum, including a 2019 ruling in Germany that returned two other Bellott paintings to Emden’s heirs.
“All they have to do is remove the picture from the wall and give it to the heirs, and the problem is solved,” Edsel said.
This issue is currently being tried in federal court. MFAH has filed a motion to dismiss and is awaiting the judge’s decision.
Click here to read the MFAH statement.
Click here to read the Statement of the Monument Men Foundation.