BERLIN.- The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation recently transferred legal possession of the watercolours 'Susanna' (1914) and 'Mutter und Kind' (1918) by Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) to Dr. Margit Frenk, heir to the estate of the art critic and collector Paul Westheim. The works were then subsequently re-acquired by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
Paul Westheim (1886-1963) was a famous Berlin art critic, editor of the monthly periodical 'Das Kunstblatt', which was founded in 1917, and patron of modern art. In his lifetime he had close ties with the National Gallery. During the Weimar Republic, he placed his private collection at the disposal of the National Gallery for use in its exhibitions. He presented Pechstein's 'Portrait of Lotte Pechstein' to the gallery in 1911. That work, now lost, was subsequently confiscated by the Nazi authorities as part of their 'Degenerate Art' campaign. Westheim knew the artist Wilhelm Lehmbruck well. After Lehmbruck committed suicide, Westheim was instrumental in ensuring that the contents of his studio could be stored at the National Gallery. Due to his political convictions and Jewish descent, Westheim was persecuted by the Nazi regime from 1933 onwards. In February 1933, within weeks of the Nazi takeover of power, the 'Völkische Beobachter' (or 'national observer', the official newspaper of the Nazi party) denounced Westheim, labelling him a 'cultural Bolshevist'. His monthly periodical 'Das Kunstblatt' was forced out of print in March of that year. Leaving his collection in Berlin, Westheim fled to France in August 1933. In exile, he actively worked against the Nazi regime by contributing to political publications from Paris and was placed under observation by the Gestapo as a result. In June 1935 his German citizenship was officially revoked. Due to the dire economic circumstances in which he found himself in exile in Paris, he was forced to sell to the National Gallery the two works by Lehmbruck which he still owned. These works have now been repurchased from their rightful owner.
Several parts of Westheim's collection of some 3000 objects, including around 50 paintings and sculptures, went missing at the end of the war. After the war, the works 'Susanna' and 'Mutter und Kind' made their way into the holdings of the National Gallery in East Berlin. As such, they became exempt to negotiations conducted in the West before the fall of the Berlin Wall seeking the return of or compensation for works originally from Westheim's collection.
In the present restitution case, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation came to the conclusion that the sale of both works in question went ahead purely as a result of Westheim's financial hardship caused directly by persecution and emigration. For this reason the foundation agreed to return the two watercolours to their rightful owner, Paul Westheim's heir, in accordance with the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the 2001 German agreement 'on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated art, especially Jewish property', which it itself helped draw up. Paul Westheim's heir quickly made it clear she was willing to sell the two works to the foundation at a generously reduced price. Her offer ensures that the works will remain at the National Museums in Berlin. The provenance details on both works have been altered accordingly so that in future they will list the Westheim collection as their origin, their restitution and subsequent purchase by the Kupferstichkabinett.
Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, had this to say on the case: 'We made our decision in accordance with the Washington Principles of 1998 and came to an amicable settlement with the heir to the Paul Westheim estate. Indeed, we are very grateful to her for her willingness to sell the two works to us. We are, of course, glad that the pictures can remain in the Kupferstichkabinett. As it now stands, they honour the history of the collection and Westheim's fate in the museum with which he felt so connected.'