Apr 3, 2022

Where is the Duchess of Courland, gifted by Red Flag Zacharie Birtschanky to LACMA in 1946?

Half-length Portrait of the Duchess of Courland 

Angelica Kauffmann

Oil on canvas, 30 ¼ x 25 in. (76.85 x 63.5 cm), signed and dated "Angelica Kauffmann Pinx. Romae 1785," Gift of Zacharie Birtschansky, 46.33.1.

Napoléon-Louis, 3rd Duke of Talleyrand-Périgord (Duke of Valençay and Prince of Sagan) [1811–1898], Château de Valençay, France1 (his sale, galerie Petit, Paris, May 29, 1899, no. 12; sold); to [Keller, Berlin (from 1899)]. 2 [Zacharie Birtschansky, Paris, gift 1946];3 to LACMA.


  1. The duke of Talleyrand probably inherited the painting through his mother, the daughter of the sitter. The sitter, Anna Charlotta Dorothea Medem, duchess of Courland (1761–1821), was the wife of Duke Peter (II), Biran of Courland, who ruled from 1769 until Courland was annexed to Russia in 1795. Following the duke’s death in 1800, the duchess lived abroad, primarily in Paris. Her youngest daughter, Katharina-Jeanne (b. 1783) married Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord in 1809. This painting and its companion, a portrait by Angelica Kauffmann of a young girl presumed to be Katharina-Jeanne, were probably inherited by Katharina-Jeanne and brought with her to Valençay.
  2. Probably Kunstsalon Keller & Reiner, Berlin. According to Victoria Manners and G. C. WilliamsonAngelica Kauffmann, R.A., Her Life and Her Works (London: John Lane, 1924), p. 148, n. 2, "There is a portrait of a Duchess of Courland by Angelica in the Gallery at Aschaffenburg, and another one in Dresden." LACMA’s portrait is not that to which she refers in the museum in Dresden. No reference to the painting in Aschaffenburg has been found in catalogues published either before or after World War II.
  3. The Beverly Hills dealer Jacob M. Heimann made the arrangements for the delivery of Angelica Kauffmann’s portrait, which Birtschansky first lent and then gave to the museum in 1946 (Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, Notice of Incoming Shipments, 9-4-46). This painting may have been among those Birtschansky shipped to the U.S. in 1939. According to a copy of a letter from an unidentified person at LACMA, Dec. 31, 1953, to S. J. Cerillo, Hudson Shipping Co., New York, "By ss ‘Normandie’, March 25th, 1939, we consigned to you—8 cases marked by B.Y. 89/96—containing paintings for account of Mr. Z. Birtschansky. We understand from Mr. Birtzchansky [sic] that these paintings have since that time been stored for his account in USA." The letter notes consular invoice form 139, no. 5623, March 24, 1939, issued by the American Consulate, Paris. The contents of this shipment are unknown. The invoice appears to have been routinely expunged by the U.S. government, which considers customs and consular inventories as temporary files. According to the OSS report, the dealer Zacharie Birtschansky (281 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris) was involved with Hermann Goering’s agent Walter Andreas Hofer and with Bruno Lohse, his man at the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Nazi agency responsible for transporting cultural objects from France for "safeguarding" in Germany. Birtschansky was also involved with Josef Mühlmann and Frau Dietrich. He was a partner of Victor Mandl and Gustav Rochlitz, German dealers working in Paris, who were deeply involved in the exchanges of paintings confiscated by the ERR and major recipients of confiscated loot. Birtschansky was indicted with Klein by the French government for receiving stolen goods (Seine Tribunal, Judge Jaquinot).

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