Today, two Old Master Drawings from the Franz Koenigs Collection are rediscovered in the USA.

The two drawings were the payment for service rendered in the sale of the Franz Koenigs Collection to Hitler.

Franz Koenigs heirs are working to restore the collection to its original state, and therefore are claiming the two Old Master Drawings from the U.S.A.

The two drawings were the payment for service rendered to complete the sale by D.G. van Beuningen, a Dutch art collector, of the Franz Koenigs Collection to Hitler. Van Beuningen had acquired the collection, including the two drawings, in a “purchase” under the exercise of undue pressure in April 1940. One of these drawings is currently at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., the other is at the Harvard Art Museum in Cambridge Mass. Both drawings are part of the registered and inventoried Koenigs Collection and Franz Koenigs’ heirs currently are examining all options available to restore the collection as a whole and therefore have been pursuing restitution in various venues.

The Franz Koenigs drawing at the National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.
National Gallery of ART Claim Letter National Gallery of ART Claim Letter 58.72 Kb

The Italian drawing by Giam Battista Tiepolo from the series “the Holy Family” is registered in the Franz Koenigs Collection’s inventory in the Italian school as Drawing I 135. Van Beuningen gave this drawing to Max. J. Friedländer as a reward for his appraisal of the part of the collection Hitler wished to buy – an appraisal that allowed the sale to be consummated.

Max Friedländer, who incidentally was a long time friend of Franz Koenigs, was the director of the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin until 1933, when the newly instituted Nazi regime forced him out of his position. Max Friedländer was a scholar of Dutch painting of international repute, and when he fled Berlin in 1939 it was natural that he would find refuge in The Hague. After the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands, Max Friedländer was deported to a German concentration camp.

To effect the sale of the Koenigs collection to Hitler, van Beuningen obtained via Göring the permanent release of Max Friedländer from the German concentration camp so that he might appraise the Koenigs Collection of drawings that Hitler’s representative had selected for Linz. After three months of extensive evaluation, Friedländer produced the required appraisal, for which van Beuningen rewarded him with the Tiepolo drawing.

After Friedländer’s death, the Tiepolo drawing, together with other pieces from his collection, was sold at the Paul Brandt auction house, on March 17, 1959. Marianne Feilchenfeldt of the Paul Cassirer firm purchased the drawing and sold it to Adolf Ratjen, whose son, Wolfgang Ratjen, added the drawing to his collection, which eventually became the Wolfgang Ratjen Foundation. The “content of this Foundation” was recently acquired by the National Gallery in Washington DC. On November 24, 2008 the heirs of Franz Koenigs informed The National Gallery of their claim to the Tiepolo drawing.

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The Franz Koenigs drawing at the Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge Mass.
Fogg Art Museum Claim Letter Fogg Art Museum Claim Letter 96.78 Kb
Portrait of a Man (R51) Portrait of a Man (R51) 34.02 Kb

The Rembrandt drawing is registered in the Franz Koenigs inventory as R 51. The drawing is of a man in half-length, drawn in feather, heightened in white. The drawing was the reward van Beuningen made to his son-in-law Lucas Peterich, who, on van Beuningen’s behalf, had negotiated the sale of the Franz Koenigs drawings to Hitler’s special art agent, Dr. Hans Posse. Peterich also received a commission of 100,000 Dutch guilders from Posse for delivering the Koenigs Collection to Hitler. After the war, in 1953/1954, Lucas Peterich sold the drawing to Paul Sachs, director of the Fogg Art Museum Cambridge Mass. Paul Sachs, who himself had been interested in acquiring the Koenigs Collection before the Reich’s invasion of the Netherlands, was thus well aware of its provenance. The Harvard Art Museum was informed of the Koenigs’ heirs claim on November 24, 2008.

Harvard University Art Museums - Collections Online
Artist: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Title: Portrait of a Man
Accession Number: 1953.28

The Franz Koenigs Collection
The current claim is part of an ongoing project to research and reassemble the collection of Franz Koenigs, which not only was sold under undue pressure in the Nazi era, but was then dismantled and sold on in contravention of the terms of that sale, which sale itself was illegal. The uniqueness of the collection was that Franz Koenigs had knowledgeably put together a collection solely consisting of Old Master Drawings, which in his lifetime because of its size, breadth and quality was considered the greatest private collection in Europe.

We know that he two drawings were part of the Franz Koenigs Collection as it was on long-term loan to the Boymans Museum from 1935 until April, 1940, when on the day the Nazis invaded Norway and Denmark and under threat of an imminent invasion of the Netherlands this great collection passed into the hands of van Beuningen in a disputed transaction.

Under applicable Dutch law at the time, this was an invalid transaction. It, however, resulted in Van Beuningen gaining possession of not only the entire collection of 2761 drawings Old Master Drawings, including the Gabburri Albums and the 6 Pirckheimer books, and adding 12 major paintings, for 1 million guilders, a fraction of the value of these works, which had been insured by the Museum for more than four times this amount.

Van Beuningen, who clearly had been in touch with Hitler’s official art agent well before April 1940, quickly sold the core 526 German drawings to Hitler, against payment of NLG 1,5 million in stark contrast to the 1 million guilders he had paid for the entire Old Master Drawing Collection and 12 major paintings. Furthermore, apart from the Rembrandt drawing (catalogue number R 51), Peterich obtained through van Beuningen the above-mentioned commission of 100,000 guilders for negotiating the sale and, inter alia, allowing van Beuningen to remain at arms length.

The 526 drawings sold to Hitler in what was deemed an illegal sale have not been wholly recuperated: after years of dispute only 139 drawings were returned to the Dutch government. Some still remain in the Pushkin museum in Moscow, and some are still being sought.

No transfer of Title
According to Dutch law, Franz Koenigs retained title to the collection throughout. An important fact to be considered is that Max Friedländer’s appraisal proves the undue pressure under which van Beuningen’s acquisition of the drawings and an additional 12 old masters took place on April 9, 1940. (The day the Nazis invaded Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands were under threat of an imminent invasion.) Max Friedländer appraised the complete Old Master Drawing Collection of 2144 drawings - excluding the two Gabburri Albums by Fra Bartolomeo and the 6 Pirckheimer books and the Spanish (Goya) drawings - at 3,5 million guilders.

Van Beuningen had acquired the entire Collection, including the Albums, the books and the Spanish drawings, as well as 12 paintings, 4 of Hieronymus Bosch and 8 Rubens oil sketches for the Torre Della Parada, for just one million guilders.

Acquisition at an unfair price was deemed illegal under the circumstances and the entire transaction both under the expert interpretation of Dutch law as well as under the terms of the Inter Allied Declaration of January 5, 1943, would be considered null and void.

For further information please contact:
Christine F. Koenigs
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