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Amsterdam Museum to Return a Matisse Work Sold Under Duress in World War II

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam says it will return an Henri Matisse painting that has been in its collection since 1941 to the heirs of its former owner, a German-Jewish textile manufacturer and art patron who sold it to fund his family’s escape of the Netherlands’ Nazi occupation.

The museum announced the return of the work, “Odalisque,” on Tuesday after the Amsterdam City Council received “binding advice” from the Dutch Restitutions Commission, a government committee that rules on cases of Nazi-looted art.

The heirs said in a statement that the decision provided symbolic justice. “The Matisse underwent the same journey from Berlin to Amsterdam as our grandparents,” they said. “But it stopped there in the Stedelijk, with almost no acknowledgment from whence it came for 80 years.”

Before World War II, Matisse’s “Odalisque,” dated 1920-21, was part of the private art collection of Albert and Marie Stern. Albert and his brother Siegbert had helped establish a leading Berlin womenswear company in the 19th century. Albert and Marie were patrons of the arts and regularly hosted art and music events at their Berlin home. Marie, who had studied art, assembled a collection that also included works by Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch.

After the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1933, the Sterns suffered several antisemitic blows. The state expropriated their business and stole many of their assets and possessions, and the family was threatened with physical violence, said Anne Webber, the founder and co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which handled the restitution claim.

In 1937, according to the Commission, the couple moved to Amsterdam, taking along some of their possessions, while applying for visas to countries including Cuba, Mexico and the United States, ultimately unsuccessfully. By July 1941, the family had little food, and sold everything they had left in the hopes of escaping Europe.

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Last modified: 28 June 2024
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