Art Law: Limbach Commission Advises against Restitution of Adolf von Menzel’s “Pariser Wochentag”

von Peter Bert

On February 3, 2015, the Advisory Commission on the Return of Cultural Property (Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturgüter) or Limbach Commission for short, published its recommendation regarding a claim for restitution as of the Behrens family. The Behrens family requested that a painting by Adolph von Menzel, “Pariser Wochentag”, which is now owned by the Düsseldorf Museum Kunstpalast. The Limbach Commission finds that the sale of the painting in 1935 to the Düsseldorf municipal museum (Städtische Kunstsammlung Düsseldorf) for 33,000 Reichsmark was not a forced sale or a sale at an undervalue which resulted from Nazi persecution of the Behrens family.

The Behrens family were the owners of L. Behrens & Söhne, a private bank in Hamburg, led at the time by George E. Behrens. His grandfather, Eduard Ludwig Behrens, had bought the painting in or around 1886.

The Limbach Commission explicitly acknowledges that George E. Behrens, having been classified as a “non-Aryan”, was persecuted by Nazi Germany. He was detained in a concentration camp in November 1938 and later had to emigrate. However, with respect to the 1935 transaction regarding the painting, the Limbach Commission was not convinced that that sale was at an undervalue and that George Behrens was forced to sell it as a result of the economic distress that the family’s banking operations had suffered at the time.

The heirs had argued that as of March 1933, the bank, now being classified as a Jewish bank, suffered a decline in revenue. Between 1933 and 1935, George Behrens lost eleven appointments as a board director, which is also indicative of the professional and business consequences the increasing discrimination of Jews in the run-up to the Nuremberg Laws had on his business. The heirs also relied on earlier valuations of the painting, which were substantiated higher, of up to 50,000 Reichsmark ...

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