A group of rare 18th-century Meissen porcelain objects surpassed expectations in a New York auction at Sotheby’s on Tuesday. Some 120 lots sold for a collected $15 million, nearly five times their $3.1 million estimate. More than half of those lots were bought back by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which was forced to give up the objects this year amid a restitution claim.
The porcelain items were made by the German manufactory Meissen, and are prized for their rarity. Some items from the auction had once been a part of royal collections in Europe. The grouping was amassed by Berlin collectors Franz and Margarethe Oppenheimer, who accrued their wealth in the coal industry in the 1920s.
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A review conducted by the Netherlands restitution commission found that the porcelain collection belonged to the Oppenheimer family, and that the objects should be returned to their heirs. As a result, some of the objects had to leave the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection. Now, they have been returned to the museum’s holdings.
The Oppenheimers were Jewish refugees who fled Germany in 1936 in the years leading up to World War II. After moving to Austria, which came under Nazi occupation in 1938, they fled to New York in 1941. By then, the couple were facing financial burdens because they were targets of the Reich flight tax, a Nazi government policy intended to strip Jews seeking refuge abroad of their assets. As a result, the Oppenheimers parted with their porcelain collection, the bulk of which was given to another collector, Fritz Mannheimer, who died in 1939.
The Meissen collection was eventually recovered by the Allied Forces and given to the Dutch government, which later distributed it among three museums in the Netherlands: the Rijksmuseum, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag in the Hague, and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam.
Among the top lots from the sale was a Meissen mantel clock case from 1727, which sold for $1.6 million, 8 times its $200,000 estimate. A rare Armorial tea and coffee service, made for the noble Venetian Morosini family, sold for $1.4 million, against an estimate of $120,000, and a rare silver goblet went for $1.1 million, soaring past its $70,000 estimate.