Detail from The Coronation of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1613. ©The Samuel Courtauld Trust, the Courtauld Gallery, London

Rubens sketch to stay in Britain

Rebecca Atkinson, 20.12.2010
Spoliation Advisory Panel rules Jewish banker sold sketch to repay debts and not because of Nazi persecution
A Rubens oil sketch is to stay in Britain after the Spoliation Advisory Panel found in favour of the Courtauld Institute and ruled that its Jewish owner sold the work in order to repay business debts.

The Coronation of the Virgin, painted in about 1613 by Peter Paul Rubens, was sold by its German Jewish banker owner, Herbert Gutmann, in Berlin in April 1934, two years before he fled to the UK. It was acquired at Sotheby’s in London in 1958 by Count Antoine Seilern, who bequeathed it to the Samuel Courtauld Trust in 1978 as part of the Princes Gate Collection.  

The work has been subject to a disputed ownership case since April 2008, when the descendents of Gutmann launched a claim for its restitution. They claimed the banker was forced to sell his art collection, including the Rubens sketch, to repay fictitious debts imposed by his employer, Dresdner Bank, after the Nazi seizure of power and the “Nazification” of the bank – a claim disputed by the Courtauld.

Last year, Vienna’s municipal council unanimously voted to return another Gutmann painting, The Death of Pappenheim by Austrian artist Hans Makart, to his descendents. It ruled that antisemitism forced Gutmann to relinquish several advisory boards of companies connected to the Dresdner Bank, and he lost all the contracts he had secured through the bank. It found this loss of income resulted in him selling his assets.

However, in stark contrast, the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel has rejected the family's restitution claim. It found in favour of the Courtauld’s argument that Gutmannss debts to the Dresdner Bank were real and resulted from his investment in Egyptian cotton futures, along with three other directors of the bank, including one “Aryan”. The primary motivating factor in the sale was therefore financial, it concluded.

The panel's report states: “The Spoliation Advisory Panel concluded that, whereas there was some evidence that Gutmann had suffered from antisemitic persecution under the Nazi regime, it was only a subsidiary and causally insignificant factor in his decision to sell his collection. The panel also found that he achieved a fair price for the sale of the painting.”

The ruling means the Courtauld will not have to return the sketch to the family or pay compensation.

Click here for full report from the Spoliation Advisory Panel (pdf)