August 3, 2006

Jewish heirs to sell returned Kirchner painting

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - A painting returned to the heirs of its
Jewish owners by a German museum last month will go under the
hammer at Christie's in New York on November 8 and is expected
to fetch $18-25 million.

The street scene by German expressionist artist Ernst
Ludwig Kirchner is the latest valuable work of restituted art
to be sold on quickly by new owners.

In June news emerged that cosmetics magnate Ronald S.
Lauder had bought a Gustav Klimt portrait for $135 million, the
most ever paid for a painting, after Austria returned it to the
heir of the original owner because it had been seized by the

The same month a painting by Austrian expressionist Egon
Schiele, which was seized by the Nazis during World War Two,
fetched nearly $22 million at an auction in London.

Andreas Rumbler, head of Christie's Germany, called
Kirchner's 1913 work "Street Scene, Berlin" "the most
significant German Expressionist picture ever to come to

He added that while it was not clear exactly how it was
taken from its owners, the Jewish collectors Alfred and Thekla
Hess, it was assumed that the Nazis were involved.

"It is believed this was a forced sale which was not
planned with the knowledge of the widow Thekla Hess," Rumbler
told Reuters on Friday. "Money was paid by the collector in
1937, but we have to assume the widow never saw the money.

"We have to assume it was taken by the Nazis."

According to Rumbler, the Nazis considered Kirchner a
"degenerate" artist, but may have seen the commercial value in
selling some of it on.

Kirchner was a leading member of The Bridge, a group of
young German artists inspired by the philosophy of Friedrich
Nietzsche and by the art of Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch.

After serving briefly as a soldier in World War One,
Kirchner suffered a nervous breakdown in 1915 from which he
never really recovered.

His inclusion in the 1937 Nazi exhibition of "degenerate
art," and the destruction of nearly 600 of his works, was a
huge blow to the painter and he committed suicide in 1938 aged