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Friday, March 31, 2023

Marc Chagall’s favorite painting “returned from oblivion”


Marc Chagall’s painting “Father” will be exhibited on February 16 at the Museum of Jewish Culture and Art (The Jewish Museum) in New York Manhattan. It was returned to the heirs of the original owner after a long and difficult restitution process.

A portrait of his father, Marc Chagall, a native of the province of Vitebsk, painted in 1911 in Paris, when his original style was clearly formed, mixing Fauvist expression and Jewish temperament. “Father” was among 15 works of art that the French government decided in April 2022 to return to the heirs of their former rightful owners. This gesture of goodwill is part of the efforts of French museums to return to Jews the works of art stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

slow rescue

According to the museum’s press dispatch, the “Father” painting has been returned to the heirs of David Cender (David Cender), its original owner. In November 2022, heirs put it up for auction at Phillips Auction House, where it sold for $7.4 million to a buyer who wished to remain anonymous. Auction representatives, as well as museum staff, have received consent from the buyer to show the painting to the museum.

“We are very proud to present a rare portrait of the artist’s father,” says Claudia Gould, director of the museum. – The large-scale and systematic looting of paintings during the Second World War, the difficult and slow rescue and return of many of them can be considered one of the most dramatic intrigues in the history of art of the XXth century. This process continues today.

The painting “Father” belonged to a Polish Jew from Lodz, luthier and music teacher David Zender (in another transcription – Sender), who acquired it in 1928 from the art dealer Abe Gutnayer. In 1940, when the entire Zehnder family was sent to Auschwitz (Auschwitz), the Nazis ransacked his house in Lodz. His wife, daughter and other relatives died in the death camp, but he himself miraculously survived. In 1958 Zehnder moved to France, where he lived until his death in 1966. He died without knowing where the Chagall painting stolen from his house was.

According to experts at Phillips Auction House, Chagall purchased the painting between 1947 and 1953 and was unlikely to be aware of its provenance (provenance is the ownership history of the work and its origin, important to confirm its authenticity – GA).

During the auction

In 1988, the National Museum of Modern Art, which is part of the Georges Pompidou cultural center in Paris, received the painting as a gift from the heirs of Chagall, who died in 1985 at the age of 97. Ten years later, the portrait was transferred to the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris, where it remained for the next 24 years until the situation with Zender’s heirs was clarified and the French authorities have decided on restitution.

The French parliament has approved a law that 15 paintings stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis during the Holocaust must be returned to their true owners and heirs. France’s culture minister at the time, Roselyn Bachelot, called the move a historic “first step”.

Zehnder’s heirs, having obtained France’s decision on restitution, decided to sell the painting, which experts at the auction house consider common practice.

What is the color

According to art historians, “Father” marks the most important period of the master’s work, when he became one of the key figures of European modernism. Then, in the winter of 1911-1912, Chagall, who left Russia for France, settled in the famous bohemian “Hive” of the Montparnasse district on the southwestern outskirts of Paris, where Modigliani, Léger, Soutine , Zadkine and many other artists who would later become famous. The paintings that Chagall created there over the next three years are among the highest achievements of his career.

Portraits occupy a special place in his work. He rarely wrote them down. “Father” is a touching and tender portrait of his father Khatskel Mordukhovich Chagall, whom everyone called Zakhar. As Chagall recalled, he was a modest, unassuming, miserly man who had worked all his life as a clerk, and in fact, as a loader, in a fish warehouse for a small wage.

“He was a naturally intimidated person, but gentle and humble. Religious, who however looked less like a ‘typical’ Jew and looked like a Belarusian peasant,” Marc Chagall would later write. “He dragged huge barrels, and my heart broke like a Turkish biscuit breaking at the sight of him shifting that weight or pulling kippers from the brine with stiff hands.”

Picasso once remarked, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only artist who understands what color really is.”

Few of Chagall’s paintings from this period have survived. In 1914, the artist returned to Russia, as he believed, not for long, but the First World War broke out, and then the October Revolution. His return to Paris was therefore delayed until 1923. On his return, the artist found that the paintings left by him in the “Hive” had disappeared. According to art historians, we are talking about about 150 missing canvases.

Place and time

“It is crucial for us to continue to tell these stories,” says Claudia Gould, director of the museum. – Just to mention our 2021 exhibition Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art.

Chagall’s “Father” is an example of the successful fate of long-time painting by an outstanding master. During World War II, a huge amount of art was taken and stolen by the Nazis from Jews in occupied European countries. According to rough estimates, around one million works of art were found and returned to the owners or their heirs.

Marc Chagall

Many works of art were destroyed; primarily those that Nazi “art historians” in civilian clothes and in uniform call “degenerate art”. In this category, the Imperial Ministry of Public Instruction and Propaganda, headed by Goebbels, inscribed in 1937 the painting “Purim” by Marc Chagall (1916-17). It was removed from the Essen Museum. But then it was acquired by a member of the Nazi party who was killed in 1945. In the atmosphere of chaos and confusion at the end of the war, the image survived.

The fact that Chagall’s “Father” painting is on public display at the Jewish Museum until January 1, 2024 is full of high symbolism. The Jewish Museum was instrumental in identifying, preserving and returning thousands of Jewish works of art and relics stolen during and after World War II.

The Museum of Jewish Culture and Art, located on Manhattan’s famous “Museum Mile” on Fifth Avenue, was founded in 1904. It is the first museum of its kind in the United States and one of the oldest museums in Jewish culture to the world. Its collection includes approximately 30,000 works of art and religious objects reflecting four millennia of Jewish history.

Copyright © 2023 The Eastern Herald.

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