Mar 29, 2021

Where do fake art provenances come from?

WARNING: Art historians who cite these sources should know that they contain omissions and outright lies concerning Nazi looted art.

Part One: Catalogues raisonné

In this series of posts, we look at the prestigious art catalogs and catalogues raisonné that introduce false provenances into art history. 

Example : Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods

A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1900-1906

Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille

Catalogue compiled with the collaboratio of Joan Rosselet

New York Graphic Society Ltd. Greenwich, Connecticut

original French edition of this books was created and published by 


Translated from the French by Phoebe Pool.

The texts of this edition were revised by Pierre Daix in 1967.

Printed in Switzerland.


Boy Leading a Horse by Picasso

Example 1: Boy Leading a Horse (Picasso)

Today, March 29, 2021, if you consult the provenance published online by the Museum of Modern Art, you will learn that between 1927 and "at least" July 7, 1934, this magnificent Picasso was owned by the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family.

The Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Collection, Berlin, by 1927; Elsa Lucy Lolo von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1899-1986), née von Lavergne-Peguilhen, later Countess von Kesselstatt, wife of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1875-1935), 1927 by gift upon marriage to at least July 7, 1934

You will not learn that the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family was persecuted and looted by the Nazis - that is information you can find in the legal documents filed in lawsuits and the numerous newspaper articles that tracked the progression of the restitution claim in the courts.  The MoMa does, in 2021, at least mention the name Mendelsohn-Bartholdy in its provenance.

The art historian who consults the catalogue raisonné Picasso 1900-1906, however, will find no trace of this family of Jewish art collectors. 

The provenance text leaps gracefully (and quite dishonestly) from Vollard to Thannhauser to William S. Paley, the powerful media magnate, to the Moma.

Where is the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family?


And yet art historians continue to cite the catalogue as if it were a reliable source, when the question they should all be asking is:

How many other provenances have been falsified in this specific catalog?

Example 2: Still Life with a Portrait (Picasso, 1906)

The Daix and Boudaille Catalogue Raisonné of 1967 lists the provenance of Picasso's Still Life with Portrait as 

Kahnweiler (1911), Dr. Robeyn, Brussels; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Once again some very, very, very important information concerning Nazi looting of Jewish art collectors is omitted.

The Picasso had belonged to Dr Meyer-Udewald who was murdered in the Holocaust because she was Jewish. Of this there is no trace in the Catalogue Raisonné. 

In a talk in a Speech given at a Symposium in Amsterdam on 30th January 2008 hosted by Sotheby’s Auctioneers, Sarah Jackson offered a more complete version of the painting's itinerary:

Dr Meyer-Udewald, who was also Jewish, had emigrated from Hamburg to Tilburg in the Netherlands in 1936 loaning the Picasso to the Stedelijk Museum three years later.  In 1940, Dr Meyer Udewald moved to Belgium.  Once in Belgium, Dr Meyer-Udewald moved between safe houses in Brussels and Antwerp until she was betrayed and sent to the transit camp for Jewish prisoners at Malines.  On 20 September 1943, she was deported from Malines to Auschwitz where she died.  Her premature death activated the terms of the 1925 Will of Ernst Schlesinger.  

In wartime Brussels, the Picasso passed through the hands of Joseph Albert Dederen, a resident of Brussels and Dr Robyn, who loaned the picture to an exhibition in Knokke, its first public reappearance after the war.  The painting then surfaced at the Bollag Gallery in Zurich from whom it was purchased by the Galerie Benador, Geneva. 

In 2006, after a settlement between Duncan V. Phillips and the heirs of Ernst Schlesinger, Picasso's Still Life with Portrait was auctioned at Christie's.

Compare the provenance in the 2006 Christie's sale catalog (below) to the provenance in the Daix and Boudaille catalogue raisonné (above):

2006 Christies provenance:

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) 
Nature morte au tableau 
oil on canvas 
32½ x 39½ in. (82 x 100.4 cm.) 
Painted in Gósol, 1906 
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (1911).
Franz Kluxen, Münster and Boldixum, Germany (by 1913).
Ernst Schlesinger, Hamburg (by 29 July, 1925).
Dr. Johanna Meyer-Udewald, Hamburg (bequest from the above on 19 September 1929 as a life estate, with reversionary interest to Käthe Schlesinger).
Joseph Albert Dederen, Brussels (by 19 October 1942).
Dr. Georges Robyn, Brussels (by 15 July 1950).
Bollag Gallery, Zurich (acquired by 1952).
Galerie D. Benador, Geneva (acquired from the above, 1952).
Duncan C. and Marjorie Phillips, Washington D.C. (acquired from the above, 22 October 1952).
Duncan V. Phillips, San Francisco, CA (acquired by descent from the above, 1985).

This painting is sold pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner Duncan V. Phillips and the heirs of Ernst Schlesinger. 

C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1932, no. 342 (illustrated, pl. 162; incorrectly dated 1905).
D. Sutton, ed., Picasso: Blue and Pink Periods, London, 1948 (illustrated in color, pl. X).
W. Boeck and J. Sabartés, Picasso, New York, 1955, pp. 135 and 372 (illustrated).
P. Daix and G. Boudaille, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, London, 1967, p. 296, no. XV.13 (illustrated).
P. Lecaldano, The Complete Paintings of Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods, London, 1968, no. 263 (illustrated).
N. Goldstein, Painting: Visual and Technical Fundamentals, New Jersey, 1979, pp. 11 and 15 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso in Catalonia, Barcelona, 1975, p. 156 (illustrated, fig. 188).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years, 1881-1907, New York, 1981, p. 550, no. 1250 (illustrated, p. 450).
M. Phillips, Duncan Phillips and His Collection, New York, 1982, pp. 198 and 333 (illustrated).
A. Podoksik, Picasso: The Artist's Works in Soviet Museums, New York, 1989, p. 150 (illustrated).
J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, 1881-1906, New York, vol. 1, 1991, p. 441.
R. Rosenblum, "The Spanishness of Picasso's Still Life," Picasso and the Spanish Tradition, London, 1996, pp. 73-74.

Picasso's Head of a Woman (1903)

This 1903 Picasso "Head of a Woman" belonged to the Jewish collector, Paul von Mendelssohn-Bertholdy, persecuted by Nazis. You'd never know that looking at #provenance published by prestigious art historians, like Pierre Daix & Georges Boudaille, however.
Daix and Boudaille's catalogue, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Period, has this to say about the provenance:
Face with open mouth"Coll. Justin K. Thannhauser, New York". (page 221, IX.8) published 1967 (French 1966) Sadly, not the only case of omitting Jewish collectors in the catalogue raisonné

Here's another Picasso for which Daix and Boudaille managed to omit the persecuted Jewish owner.

Madame Soler is currently the object of a claim filed by the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy against the Bavarian State Paintings Collection (Neue Pinakothek) and the government of Bavaria.

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's name was forgotten, erased, omitted, concealed, disappeared from the provenance. Like so many of the other contested Picassos, for which the Jewish owner was omitted in the catalogue raisonné, Madame Soler passed through Justin K. Thannhauser.

Was this Painting Lost Because of the Nazis? the NYT asks.

see also: Der Spiegel

One Jewish Family's Battle with a Munich Museum

Heirs of the Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy have demanded that a Munich art museum return a Picasso they say was sold during World War II as a result of Nazi persecution. But the museum seems uninterested in pursuing a fair resolution.

Further reading

See also: 
The SolomonRGuggenheim MuseumNew York 
Published by The Solomon RGuggenheim Foundation New York
1978 FSBN0-89207-016-1 Library ofCongress Card Catalogue Number 78-66357 
®The Solomon RGuggenheim Foundation1978 
Printed in the U.S.ASupported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in WashingtonD.C., a FederalAgency
JUSTIN KTHANNHAUSER on the occasion of his eightieth birthday at The Solomon RGuggenheim MuseumMay 71972 

Selections mentioning Thannhauser

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