A work of art stolen by the Nazis, sitting for decades, unnoticed, in a museum in Upstate New York, later seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)? No, it’s not the plot of Nicolas Cage’s latest movie; it actually happened about an hour southwest of Saratoga Springs this past September.
A painting entitled, Winter, by American impressionist Gari Melchers had been on display at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie until last month when, according to court documents, the piece was handed over to the FBI after the work had been confirmed to be a long-lost piece of art looted by the Nazis in 1933. Its formers owner was Rudolf Mosse, a respected German publisher and philanthropist in the early 20th century, whose heirs have been hunting down his stolen collection.
While the Arkell Museum’s Executive Director and Chief Curator Suzan D. Friedlander, did not personally respond to saratoga living‘s request for comment, she did, however, forward us a statement from the museum, saying: “The Arkell Museum was of course very upset to learn the history of the painting’s seizure from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933 and its subsequent sale at the Lepke Auction in 1934. We fully support the work of the Mosse Art Restitution Initiative and other efforts, and willingly turned over the painting to the FBI, waiving all right, title, and interest in the painting.”
As the museum notes, the work was tracked down by The Mosse Art Restitution Project, the aforementioned initiative by the Mosse family’s heirs to regain Rudolf’s stolen art through proper legal channels (hence, the FBI). Rudolf Mosse originally acquired the painting from the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1900. Influential German Jews, with ties to the Berliner Tageblatt, a newspaper critical of Hitler, Mosse and his family drew the ire and persecution of the Nazis and were forced to flee Germany in 1933. In absentia, the Mosse’s estate was then seized and looted by the Nazis, and Winter was sold at auction a year later to industrialist and art-collector Bartlett Arkell, who built the Arkell Museum to house his personal collection.
While it’s unclear how much Melchers’ Winter is worth, a search of completed auctions on Sotheby’s website shows that, in the past, Melchers’ works have gone for anywhere from $5000 on the low end to more than $900,000 on the high end.
The painting is currently in holding at the FBI’s Albany facility awaiting its release to Mosse’s heirs.