1921 Matisse, 'Seated Woman,' To Be Reunited With Rosenberg Heirs

May 15, 2015
Originally published on May 15, 2015 10:44 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I'm Steve Inskeep with a true story that sounds more like a crime novel or the plot of a movie. In fact, something like this is the basic plot of a new Helen Mirren movie, "Woman In Gold." It is also a real historic outrage. Almost 75 years ago, the Nazis stole many paintings in Europe from Jews. Today, one by Henri Matisse is being returned. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: This story begins on a train from Zurich to Munich in 2010 during a routine check for papers. An elderly passenger had a suspiciously large amount of cash on him. German authorities investigated. In his apartment, they found over a thousand paintings, some reportedly in vegetable crates - Picasso, Matisse, Chagall - estimated value, over a billion dollars. The man was Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer who helped the Nazis. Attorney Christopher Marinello is the CEO of Art Recovery Group. He says the Matisse being returned today belonged to the renowned art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who fled from the Nazis in 1940. Marinello says they were able to prove it because Rosenberg kept a detailed archive.

CHRISTOPHER MARINELLO: It shows his intake sheets, images, exhibition history. It really is incredible.

BLAIR: Rosenberg bought the painting from his friend, Matisse. It was one of hundreds of artworks Rosenberg spent years trying to recover before his death in 1959. His granddaughter, Anne Sinclair.

ANNE SINCLAIR: First, I feel deeply moved, of course, by the idea that this painting is back in the family 74 years after being looted and deeply melancholic, thinking that my grandfather is not able to see that.

BLAIR: Anne Sinclair says about 60 works from her grandfather's collection are still unaccounted for. She and her cousins don't know whether they, too, are in an apartment somewhere or were destroyed during the war. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.