December 15, 2021
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Blue (1926). Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The heirs of Piet Mondrian have challenged the Philadelphia Museum of Art over ownership of a painting by the Dutch artist that representatives of the estate claim was looted by the Nazis. They are seeking to regain the work, titled Composition with Blue (1926), which has been in the museum’s holdings for nearly 70 years.
According to the provenance provided by the PMA, the diamond-shaped canvas was consigned in 1927 by the artist to the prominent art dealer Sophie Küppers. She entrusted it to a museum in Hanover, Germany, that was later raided by the National Socialist authorities in 1937, shortly before Mondrian fled to London. It was then acquired in 1939 by the renowned American collector A. E. Gallatin from the Buchholz Gallery in New York, a popular repository of so-called “degenerate” artworks trafficked by the Nazis.
The news was first reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which noted that the legal proceedings began last week and are being undertaken on behalf of the descendants of Mondrian’s sole immediate heir, Harry Holtzman. For its part, the museum has said it will “vigorously” defend itself against the “meritless claim.” Per the PMA’s website, Mondrian, who in 1938 fled fascist rule in Paris and two years later arrived in New York, counted Gallatin as a friend. Museum president Timothy Rub told the Inquirer that neither Mondrian, who died in 1944, or Holtzman, who died in 1987, had ever raised objections to museum’s purchase and almost continual display of Composition with Blue, with the artist at one point offering to assist in its restoration. “In the subsequent 30-plus years after Holtzman passed away,” Rub noted, “the executors of the estate, the heirs of Mondrian, did not make any claim for the picture. The PMA in a statement affirmed that it “supports restoring artwork looted by the Nazi regime to its rightful owners, and has done so in the past.”
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