In recent art world news, a prized painting, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” (1739-40) by the artist Michele Marieschi, has become the focus of a 70-year restitution effort by the Graf family and its heirs that is now being resolved on an ambivalent note.
Back in 1937, Vienna, a couple named Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf purchased a scenic 18th-century oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice with the Punta Della Dogana in the background. The Graf family considered the prized painting to be the highlight of their treasured art collection. The next year, after Austria was annexed by Germany, the Grafs along with their young twin daughters, Erika and Eva, fled the country. In 1942, by the time the family settled in New York, all the family’s possessions had been looted by the Nazis.
The prized painting will be part of an upcoming old masters auction in July at Sotheby’s in London as a restitution settlement reached between the heirs and a trust on behalf of the now deceased owner. Sotheby’s has estimated the painting’s value in the range of $650,000 to $905,000. Though treasured by the Graf family, the painting is not widely considered to be a significant work.
This painful and circuitous history reflects how looted artworks that have been in private hands for decades are coming to market after settlement agreements with the rightful owners, in a way that tries to address their tainted past. These agreements may not result in the return of the paintings to the heirs, but the compromise does provide at least a form of resolution and some compensation to the heirs, and brings the artworks out of hiding.”
The heirs of the Graf family were not able to have the painting returned to them because the deceased owner and the trust declined to return the artwork. Instead, an agreement was reached between the parties that includes sharing of the proceeds from the Sotheby’s sale.
The Graf family had been actively searching for the painting since 1946 around the time Heinrich Graf submitted a claim for the work in Austria. Decades later, in 1998, the two daughters with the assistance of the Art Loss Register, a database of lost and stolen art that also offers search services, posted an ad in The Art Newspaper seeking information on the painting.
In 2013, after the death of the owner of the painting, the artwork fell into a trust. In 2015, the trust reached out to Art Recovery International, which specializes in the mediation of restitution claims. It was around this time that negotiations with the Graf heirs began. The estate of the deceased owner and the Graf family reached the restitution agreement in December.
For further information on this intriguing story, see “After Decades, A ‘Bittersweet’ Resolution Over Lost Art[,]” published online by The New York Times on May 28, 2017.