When a story about a great work of art hits the front page of a major newspaper, it usually means some kind of trouble: Fraud. Theft. Vandalism. But when two weeks ago the Los Angeles Times published an article with a reproduction of "Adam" and "Eve" by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder –– the news was good, at least for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
Lucas Cranach the Elder's "Adam" and "Eve" at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena
Photo: ARCA Blog
Norton Simon purchased these paintings in 1971 from descendants of the Russian aristocratic family, who claimed that after the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet authorities confiscated their family collection. In 1931, in desperate need of money, the Soviets sold "Adam" and "Eve" at an auction in Berlin, where it was acquired by the Dutch Jewish art dealer, Jacques Goudstikker.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, "Adam" and "Eve", 1526
Oil on panel
Photo: Norton Simon Art Foundation
Then, at the beginning of World War II, when the Nazis invaded Holland, Goudstikker fled the country. His vast collection was sold under enormous pressure to Hermann Goering –– and for only a fraction of its actual price. After the war, part of this collection was recovered by Allied forces and returned to the Dutch government. However, no one claimed ownership of the Cranach diptych until 1966, when descendants of the Russian aristocratic family were allowed to acquire these paintings that were subsequently sold to Norton Simon. But that wasn't the end of the story. The descendants of Jacques Goudstikker initiated a lengthy legal battle claiming that they are the lawful owners of Cranach's "Adam" and "Eve". Three weeks ago, the US District Court ruled that the Norton Simon Museum is indeed the rightful owner of the paintings. So next time you go to this museum, pay homage to this great masterpiece, for one never knows how the next chapter in its history might turn out.
Matisse paintings at Sergei Shchukin's home, Moscow
Photo: Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Last Sunday's issue of the New York Times featured a generously illustrated, double-spread article by Joseph Giovannini: "From Paris to Moscow and Back." It told the fascinating story of an outstanding private collection of French art assembled more than one hundred years ago in Moscow by Sergei Shchukin. A successful merchant, he began collecting in the late 1890s and as a result of his numerous trips to Paris, acquired close to 300 iconic works by Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin, to name just a few.
Collection of Henri Matisse paintings at Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
In 1908, he opened his Moscow palace to the public –– the first ever museum in Russia devoted to contemporary art. After the 1917 Revolution, his museum, with its vast collection, was taken over by the Soviet government and now, one hundred years later, visitors to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow can salivate over the Sergei Shchukin collection divided between these two museums.
Collection of Paul Gauguin paintings at Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Lucky Parisians! This coming October, they will enjoy a large exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation with a display of more than 130 paintings from Shchukin's collection. Unfortunately for us in the United States, the chance of hosting such an exhibition here is close to zero because of a legal dispute with Russia. This dispute is in response to a decision by a federal judge to fine Russia $44 million for refusing to return a collection of Jewish books and documents to the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group based in Brooklyn. You may want to check out the link to the New York Times article on the subject on the KCRW website for today's Art Talk.
(T): Matisse paintings at Pushkin Museum, Moscow
(B): Portrait of Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov, 1910
Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow
But who knows, hopefully one day, when this dispute is over we Angelenos might enjoy a travelling exhibition celebrating the amazing collection of French art assembled by Ivan Morozov, another Russian collector who lived in Moscow and whose collection rivaled the one assembled by Shchukin.