Léger Painting Stolen by Nazis Returned to Rightful Owners

03Nov08

By Emily Waldorf

Fernand Léger's 1911 painting Smoke Over Rooftops was returned to the heirs of Jewish collector Alphonse Kann by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

According to the The International Herald Tribune, a 1911 Fernand Léger painting, Smoke Over Rooftops, was returned to the heirs of Alphonse Kann by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, after a decade of research concluded that the painting had been stolen by Nazis during World War II.  Léger examined the “smoke over the rooftops” theme at least 6 times in his work and this excellent example is worth a reported $2.8 million.

Mr. Kann was a well-established Parisian collector who fled to London during World War II.  The majority of his art collection was seized by Nazis and later returned to him with the exception of the Léger.  Galerie Leiris in Paris purchased the painting at auction in 1942 and then sold it to the Buchholz Gallery in New York.  A Minneapolis businessman named Putnam Dana McMillan bought the Léger from Buchholz Gallery in 1951 and later donated it to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where it was hung without fanfare until a letter arrived in 1997 claiming that there was evidence that the painting was documented in Mr. Kann’s inventory.  Since Léger painted the smoke theme several times, it was difficult to ascertain whether the painting in the museum was indeed the work missing from Kann’s collection since the war.  The case involved extensive research of rare World War II documents as well as auction and gallery records pulled from four separate countries.

Museums frequently face claims that works in their collections might be stolen property.   U.S. museums recently reported that between 1998 and 2006 over 22 works in their permanent collections had been identified as stolen by nazis.  In many of these cases, such as the case with the Kann Léger, the property is returned to heirs or settlements are reached that let the pieces remain in museum collections.

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6 Responses to “Léger Painting Stolen by Nazis Returned to Rightful Owners”

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