Artwork returned 70 years on

August 28, 2008

Almost 70 years after it was sold under Nazi duress, a painting has been returned to the heirs of the original Jewish owner at the request of the current possessor.

The pencil drawing, known as Tiroler Bäuerin, by Adolf von Menzel, a nineteenth-century German artist known for his drawing and paintings, was owned before the Second World War by Alfred Sommerguth, a wealthy Jewish businessman.

The keen art-collector was forced to sell much of his collection in 1939 in Berlin. They included Dutch and Italian Renaissance masterpieces as well as French Impressionists.

In 1941, the then 82 year-old Mr Sommerguth fled with his wife, Gertrud, to Cuba via Portugal and eventually settled in New York, where he died 10 years later. His heirs have been in the process of recovering some of the original collection of more than 100 artworks.

However, earlier this year, the drawing's current owner, Michael Venator, contacted the Sommerguth heirs to notify them that he was in possession of the artwork, which he has purchased in good faith in 1998.

In a letter, he wrote: "As a German, in such a case, I cannot invoke the statute of limitations. How should I calculate? One minute of Alfred and Gertrud Sommerguth's fear of death against ten hours of the statute of limitations? No, I cannot do that. I have to give back the painting."

Last updated: 3:12pm, August 29 2008