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Four works recovered by the Monuments Men in Sotheby's Old Master Paintings Sale
Jean-Baptiste Pater, "La cueillette des roses"; "Le Musicien", a pair, both oil on panel, estimate $300/500,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s 30 January 2014 sale of Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture will feature four works recovered by the Monuments Men, the fabled allied organization responsible for the protection of monuments and cultural treasures during World War II, as well as the recovery and return of millions of works of art displaced during the conflict. Like many of the treasures looted during World War II, thee present works came from celebrated European collections and two were even selected by Hitler’s deputy and Luftwaffe Chief, Hermann Göring, for his personal collection. The paintings still bear the traces of the Nazi’s collecting and documenting process and the information preserved by the Monuments Men at the time of recovery has helped to restore the history of the works during the war. The paintings are currently on view at Sotheby’s ahead of Thursday’s auction.

Leading the group are a pair of paintings by Jean-Baptiste Pater, “La cueillette des roses”; “Le musicien,” which were acquired by Baron James Mayer de Rothschild in the 19th century (est. $300/500,000). The pair descended in his family until it was confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and taken to one of the major Parisian art depots at the Jeu de Paume, on 5 November 1940. Like many of the best works confiscated by the Nazis, German military official Hermann Göring took the paintings for his personal collection. The Monuments Men recovered the paintings from Berchtesgaden and sent them to the Munich Central Collecting Point on 6 August 1945. Later that year, the works werre restituted to the Rothschild family where they remained until the 20th century before being acquired by the current owner. These charming small panels epitomize Pater’s elegant style and favorite subject matter. Using his distinctive feathery brushwork, with richly colored figures set against pale, misty backgrounds, he created depictions of a charmed and idealized rustic world. The audience for such pictures was international and his work was sought after by a wide clientele. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, eventually owned more than 40 of Pater’s works.

Also recovered and restituted by the Monuments Men is Francesco Guardi’s Venice, a view of the Piazzetta looking towards San Giorgio Maggiore (est. $200/300,0000), previously owned by French fashion designer and esteemed collector Jacques Doucet and his wife, whose legendary art collection at one time included Pablo Picasso’s famed Demoiselles d'Avignon. The painting was acquired by the French banker André Louis-Hirsch in 1912 and then looted frrom his widow by the ERR on 16 October 1941. As a means of cataloguing the stolen work, the ERR painted “Hirsch 8” on the back of the stretcher. Once recovered by the Monuments Men, the painting was sent to the Munich Central Collecting Point on 25 June 1945, before it was restituted to the original owners after 23 May 1946. This tranquil view of the Piazzetta was a subject revisited by Guardi on numerous occasions throughout the course of his career, each time varying the perspective and figure arrangements. Most closely resembling the present composition is a canvas in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, which, like the present work, is painted from a point at the far left of the square, close to the water. The present work was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Art in 1952.

Apollonio di Giovanni’s Triumph of Marcus Furius Camillus, a cassone Panel was confiscated by the ERR from the collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s Château de Ferričres (est. $150/200,000). The ERR marked the back of the painting with “BoR 58” to indicate its pedigree. The Monuments Men found the work at the Buxheim Monastery in Bavaria and returned it to the Rothschild family in 1946/7. Di Giovanni was much celebrated for his inventive designs of often secular subjects and his treatment of episodes from ancient history, such as that shown in the present panel; these were much sought after by 15th century Florentines, who proudly envisioned themselves as heirs to the democratic values of their Roman forebears.

George Clooney’s film adaptation of Robert Edsel’s book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” will be released in early February 2014 just after Old Masters Week.

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