(New York, May 11, 2012)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art has restituted two bronze medals and a plaquette from its collection to the heirs of a Munich-based art gallery. In 2010, the Museum restituted to the same heirs an 18th-century Meissen snuffbox, and also facilitated the resolution of a claim to a reliquary that had been on loan to the Museum.
In 1936, the shareholders of the gallery, who were Jewish, were forced to liquidate the gallery’s entire stock in response to an extortionate tax demand by the Nazi Government in order to secure their freedom to leave Germany. The gallery’s inventory – including the snuffbox, reliquary, and medals—was sold at auction in Berlin in 1936.
The two medals and plaquette are all aftercasts of models produced in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The first medal is an aftercast—possibly from the 16th century—of Sperandio’s medal of 1473 depicting Pellegrino Prisciani. The second medal is a late aftercast, possibly from the 19th century, of a portrait medal of Thomas Bohier, made by a follower of Giovanni Filangieri Candida in 1503. The third is an aftercast, possibly from the early 16th century, of a plaquette executed between 1480 and 1500 and attributed to the Master of the Martelli Mirror.
The objects entered the Metropolitan Museum’s collection in 1975 as part of the Robert Lehman bequest. While preparing a catalogue in late 2010 of metalwork in the Lehman Collection, the Museum discovered in its archival files a letter from the New York branch of the gallery to Mr. Lehman concerning these objects. The letter identifies them as having been purchased at the 1936 Berlin auction. The Museum was then able to compare photographs of the medals and plaquette in the auction catalogue from 1936 with the works in the Museum’s collection and confirmed that they matched.
With the cooperation of the Robert Lehman Foundation, the Museum wrote to the lawyer for the heirs, advising that the Museum had discovered the medals and plaquette with this provenance in its collection. After discussion, the Museum and the heirs agreed that the Museum would return the objects to the heirs.
“The Metropolitan Museum remains committed to ensuring that works of art which were looted by the Nazis are returned to their rightful owners,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Museum. “The Metropolitan Museum is committed to ongoing provenance research, and when this research reveals that a work in the Museum’s collection was unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era without subsequent restitution, the Museum is committed to making such information public and, where possible, providing such information to potential claimants. In this way, the Museum demonstrates its commitment to uphold its Collections Management Policy, which provides that the Museum will respond to World War II era spoliation claims in a prompt, equitable, appropriate, and mutually agreeable manner. We are pleased that this claim was resolved so amicably through discussions between the heirs’ legal representative and the Museum, and we are pleased to see the two medals and the plaquette return to the heirs.”
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May 11, 2012