Van Gogh’s painting, once looted by the Nazis, could fetch $ 30 million

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

Over a century since it was last seen in public, a vibrant Vincent van Gogh painting that was once seized by the Nazis is on its way to auction.

The watercolor in a harvest scene entitled “Meules de blé” (“Wheat Stacks”) depicts women working in the fields of Arles, France, and is expected to sell for up to $ 30 million.

Van Gogh painted the scene in 1888, after retiring to the French countryside in the midst of a period of ill health. While in Arles, he fell in love with the pastoral lifestyle around him, and “Meules de blé” was one of several harvest-themed works he created during this period.

The auction house behind the sale, Christie’s, said in its catalog that the watercolor demonstrates Van Gogh’s “obsession with Japonism”, which led him to adopt a more graphic style similar to Japanese woodcuts.

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Despite the quiet scene depicted, the painting has a troubled history. It originally belonged to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, and later changed hands before being bought by Max Meirowsky, a Jewish industrialist, in 1913. In the face of anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, Meirowsky was forced to flee and left the painting to a German. art dealer in Paris, according to Christie’s.

The watercolor came into the possession of Miriam Caroline Alexandrine de Rothschild, who herself fled to Switzerland after the outbreak of World War II. During the occupation of France, the Nazis looted De Rothschild’s collection and took, among other things, “Meules de blé”.

In 1941, the painting was transferred to the Jeu de Paume, a museum used by the Nazis to store and exhibit works of art that were considered “degenerate” or otherwise confiscated. According to Christies, “Meules de blé” was then taken to the Schloss Kogl castle in Austria, where it entered a nameless private collection.

While De Rothschild tried to retrieve her lost paintings after the fall of the Nazi regime, Van Gogh avoided her. In 1978, it was acquired by Wildenstein & Co. gallery in New York, where it was purchased by the late art collector Edward Lochridge Cox, a Texan oil magnate with a penchant for impressionism. The watercolor is part of a larger Christie’s sale of his collection, which includes paintings by other famous artists, including Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet.

Van Gogh painted the scene in 1888, after retiring to the French countryside.

Van Gogh painted the scene in 1888, after retiring to the French countryside. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021

After Cox’s death, a conflict of ownership arose between Cox’s estate and the heirs of both Meirowsky and De Rothschild. Christie’s notes in his catalog that the parties have since reached a “settlement agreement”, but declined to comment further on the matter.

The painting was last seen in public in 1905, when it was displayed as part of a larger Van Gogh retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Nazi-looted works of art have been at the center of several ownership disputes in recent years. Among them are impressionist Gari Melchers’ “Winter,” which was confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish family and only recently returned to its descendants, and a Camille Pissarro portrait at the center of years of disagreement between the University of Oklahoma and heir to a Frenchman Jewish family.

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