In April, the German city of Düsseldorf decided to restitute a Franz Marc painting to the heirs of a Jewish businessman who sold the work during World War II. That return will not come to pass just yet, however.
The German press agency dpa reports that bureaucratic dealings have effectively put the restitution at a standstill, delaying a return that could open up the possibility of many more like it taking place. According to dpa, the public prosecutor’s office requested new paperwork and initiated a criminal complaint against the board that recommended the painting’s return.
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The painting in question, Die Füchse (Foxes), from 1913, has long been on view at the Kunstpalast museum in Düsseldorf. It is valued at between $18 million and $36 million, and it was formerly owned by Kurt Grawi, whose businesses and properties were taken by the Nazis in 1935. After being interned at a concentration camp for several weeks in 1938, he wrote in 1939 of using the funds from the sale of Die Füchse to support an emigration from Germany.
Die Füchse was soon smuggled out of Germany, where it sold at auction in New York in 1940 to filmmaker William Dieterle. German department store owner Helmut Horten bought in 1961 and gave it to the city of Düsseldorf a year after.
Because the work was sold in the U.S., the restitution of Die Füchse has been closely watched by experts since the U.S. was never under Nazi control or influence. Typically, works have been considered sold under duress if their owners gave them up as the Nazis assumed power in Germany and other parts of Europe, but that standard doesn’t necessarily apply to Die Füchse. Yet a Düsseldorf panel of experts determined that “the location of the [sale] becomes secondary” because Grawi’s situation was so closely tied to the persecution of Jews in Germany.
In April, when the cultural commission made the unanimous decision to return the Marc painting, the city of Düsseldorf said it was preparing to send the work to the heirs. No timeline has been provided for the restitution of the work.