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Spoils Of War: Stories Behind The Art Of Nazi Germany

painting hung on a wall with description next to it.


The Stories Behind The Art

Jenny McComas, Curator of Western Art After 1800, has been in charge of the Indiana University Art Museum Provenance Project since 2004. The goal of the project was to make sure the museum hadn't inadvertently acquired pieces of art that may have been looted during World War II.

In the process, she uncovered interesting stories and histories of a number of works. "This isn't the type of information you usually read on a label in the gallery," she says. "It's a reminder that these works haven't always hung on the walls of our museum."

The twelve works in the The Spoils of War exhibition are interspersed with other paintings in the gallery. Some of the featured pieces weren't even moved, while others had never been on display until now. To properly tell the story of art in Nazi Germany, McComas arranged the works according the chronology of the events of the Third Reich, not art history.

Nudes And Eunuch: Keeper Of The Harem

The first painting McComas points out is Nudes and Eunuch: Keeper of the Harem, an oil and canvas painting from 1912 by German expressionist painter Emil Nolde. This painting depicts non-Western figures, which is probably why it ended up in an exhibition designed to show how German art and culture had degenerated.

The painting moved from Germany to Denmark before making its way to the United States:

  • 1925 Acquired by Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg, Halle, Germany
  • 1937 Removed from the museum by the Nazi government and it was placed in the "Entartete Kunst" ("Degenerate Art") Exhibition
  • 1939 Purchased by Aage Vilstrup, Hellerup, Denmark (Nolde's brother-in-law)
  • 1976 Purchase by IU Art Museum from the Collection of Harry C. Nail, Jr.

Portrait Of A Lady

"I'm not sure that we've ever had it on view before," McComas says of the painting Portrait Of A Lady from 1895 by century German artist Franz Seraph van Lenbach. The identity of the sitter is unknown, but McComas suspects she didn't like the painting that much, because only six years later it was up for sale at a Munich art gallery.

Its journey to the IU Art Museum involved thirty years of hiding:

  • 1901 Purchased at Bernheimer Gallery, Munich by Robert Perutz
  • 1901-1941 Passed down through two generations of the Haurowitz family
  • 1939-1968 Stored with friends of the Haurowitz family, Antonin and Zdenka KvÄ•ton, in Prague
  • 1968 Reclaimed by Felix Haurowitz, Indiana University Chemistry Professor, upon a trip to Prague
  • 1981 Donated to Indiana Unviersity by Felix and Gina Haurowitz

Flagellation Of Christ

In July of 1945, Berlin had just fallen and the city was in shambles. McComas explains that it was fairly common for allied soldiers at the end of the war to steal paintings from museums and ship them home. After the war, museums made concerted efforts to return looted pieces, but many items slipped through the cracks.

This altar section resurfaced in the 1960s in a London art gallery with no identifying marks on it:

  • 1821–1918 Hung in the Jagdschloss Grunewald, a royal Renaissance hunting lodge near Berlin, as part of the collection of the Prussian royal family
  • 1918–1945 The Jagdschloss Grunewald is administered as a museum, since 1932
  • 1945 Stolen from the museum by an allied solider
  • 1967 Purchased by Herman B. Wells from Gallery Lasson, London
  • 1985 Donated by Wells to the Indiana University Art Museum
  • 2006 Returned to the Jagdschloss Grunewald

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