Israel Museum returns Nazi-looted painting, then buys it back

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Museum returned a painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of its original owner, and then repurchased it.

The Impressionist painting “Garden in Wannsee,” by German-Jewish artist Max Liebermann was returned to an heir of Max Cassirer, a wealthy businessman from Berlin and scion of a renowned family of art dealers, the museum announced in a statement Tuesday.

As a result of Nazi persecution, Cassirer was forced to sell the business “Dr. Cassirer & Co.” in 1935. In 1939, he emigrated to Switzerland and later to England. Cassirer’s assets were confiscated by the Nazis in 1941. Some of his paintings were sold at auction, and others, including “Garden in Wannsee,” were seized by a Nazi looting agency.

After the war, the painting was found and handed over to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, or JRSO. In 1950, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization gave the painting in custody to the Bezalel National Museum, the precursor to the Israel Museum.

A pre-war photo was discovered showing the painting hanging in Cassirer’s home in Berlin, leading to the restitution announced on Tuesday.

“The rightful restitution of works of art that were stolen or unwillingly sold during the Second World War is a challenge that many continue to face, and it is gratifying when ongoing research relating to JRSO works in our collection results in their return,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “We do our best to be exemplary in the handling of World War II restitution claims and are especially pleased to be able to achieve a resolution in the case of Max Liebermann’s masterwork ‘Garden of Wannsee,’ with title restituted to its rightful heirs, while we are able to continue to keep the work itself for the Museum’s collection.”