The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, two donors, and the heirs of Jewish art dealers Paul Graupe and Arthur Goldschmidt have reached a deal concerning Adriaen van Ostade’s painting Customers Conversing in a Tavern (1671), which ended up in the hands of Hitler during World War II.
In 2017, the new owners of the painting, Susan and Matthew Weatherbie, promised a gift of Dutch and Flemish paintings to the MFA Boston, Customers Conversing in a Tavern among them. Victoria Reed, the museum’s senior curator for provenance, noticed that the painting’s provenance hinted at a dark past.
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Over the ensuring seven years of research, Reed was able to find the rightful heirs to the painting and now, a deal has been struck. The Weatherbies will continue to own the painting, which will still be part of the promised gift to the MFA, and the Jewish heirs will receive an unspecified cash payment from both the couple and the museum, according to Boston.com.
“We are so pleased to reach this resolution with the heirs of Paul Graupe and Arthur Goldschmidt and with the Weatherbies,” said MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum in a statement. “The story of this painting reminds us that the work of Holocaust-era restitution is still not complete, and that just and equitable resolutions can be found with willing partners.”
The painting had originally been owned by dealer Paul Graupe and his business partner Arthur Goldschmidt, who worked together at the Paris-based gallery Paul Graupe et Cie in the early 1900s. While other Jewish galleries were being “Aryanized” by being transferred to non-Jewish owners, Graupe was given special permission by the Nazi Reich Chamber of Culture to keep dealing as his long list of international clientele made his business particularly valuable. But in 1937 his special permission was revoked, and he and Goldschmidt had to escape Nazi-occupied France, leaving behind the gallery and their stock of work behind.
Before leaving, they managed to sell Customers Conversing in a Tavern to Karl Haberstoc, an agent for Hitler, who then sold it to Hitler’s art adviser and curator, Hans Posse. The painting was slated to be included in Hitler’s future Führermuseum, which was to be built in Linz.
Graupe returned to Paris in 1945, hoping to restitute work that had been looted by Nazis, though it’s unclear if he also endeavored to get back work that he had sold to the Nazis under duress. Meanwhile, Customers Conversing in a Tavern was recovered by Allied forces at the end of the war and shipped to France for restitution. Graupe appears to have been unaware of this, and when the painting wasn’t claimed, France put up the work for auction in 1951. (During this period, Graupe fell seriously ill; he died in 1953.)
The painting changed hands several times and was eventually sold in 1992 to the Weatherbies, who, according to the MFA, were not aware of its Nazi tainted past. Once this past was discovered, however, they worked with the museum and the heirs to come to a solution.
“We are happy that these longstanding ownership issues have been resolved so amicably, and we are delighted to display Customers Conversing in a Tavern at the MFA so that it can be shared with the public,” said the Weatherbies in a statement.
This is not the first time the MFA Boston has come to a deal over a Nazi-looted work. In early 2022, the MFA returned View of Beverwijk (1646) by Salomon van Ruysdael to the heirs of Ferenc Chorin, a Jewish collector whose bank vault in Hungary was emptied out by Nazi forces. The Chorin heirs had been searching for the work for years and finally found it when the MFA Boston had posted the painting to their website after the museum began digitizing its collection.