Three Disputed Rubens Paintings to Remain at the Courtauld Institute

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A trio of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens will remain with their current owner, the Courtauld Gallery in London, the UK Parliament’s spoliation advisory panel ruled.

The works in question are St Gregory the Great with Ss Maurus and Papianus and St. Domitilla with Ss Nereus and Achilleus (1606–07); The Conversion of St. Paul (1610–12); and The Bounty of James 1 Triumphing Over Avarice, for the ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall (ca. 1632).

The spoliation advisory panel, which determines the rightful ownership of contested artworks, rejected three separate claims for the Rubins works. Among those fighting for the works was Christine Koenigs, the granddaughter of German banker and collector Franz Wilhelm Koenigs.

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Published on March 18, the spoliation advisory panel report outlines the provenance of the works, which once belonged to a notable collection of drawings and paintings amassed by Koenigs. In 1932, Koenigs transferred the bulk of his collection to Lisser & Rosenkranz bank in Hamburg for a loan. Three years later, he transferred 47 paintings, among them the three Rubens pieces, to the bank for another loan.

That same year, Koenings put on long-term loan with Rotterdam’s Museum Boymans (now the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen) his collection of drawings, as well as a few paintings. According to the report, “The collection, while security for his debt, had been loaned by Franz Koenigs to the Boijmans.”

During the rise of the Nazi regime, the bank moved to the Netherlands and, in April 1940, went into voluntary liquidation. The bank sold the Rubens canvases to Count Antoine Seilern. After the war, she brought them to England and later bequeathed them to the Courtauld Institute as the Princes Gate collection.

“Koenigs lodged a different claim on behalf of herself and seven out of thirteen of the heirs of Franz Koenigs in his capacity as holder of 2.4% of the shares in the [Lisser & Rosenkranz] bank,” the report explains.

Gal Flörsheim, the sole heir of Salomon Jakob Flörsheim who was one of the bank’s main shareholders, also filed a claim. Additionally, Flörsheim claimed in his capacity as an appointed liquidator of the bank with co-liquidator Eyal Dolev.

“The panel concluded that the claimants had neither a legal nor a moral claim to the three paintings and that the works should continue to be enjoyed in a public museum in line with the wishes of Franz Koenigs,” the report states.

“The panel does not consider that the grandchildren of Koenigs, who himself pledged the paintings initially as security, and who intended them ultimately to remain at the museum, could ever have had a superior moral claim to the paintings than that of the Courtauld, who hold them for the public benefit and received them from a man who paid a fair value for them,” the report continues.

This is not the first time that Christine Koenigs has laid claim to the works. In 2007, the UK spoliation advisory panel rejected her claim on the basis that Franz Koenigs had given the paintings as collateral for a loan.

At that time, the Courtauld asserted that Koenings lost the right to the works when the bank liquidated ahead of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. They said that offloading the works was an economic decision.

This is the fifth time the restitution panels in the UK and the Netherlands have considered claims over the three Rubens works.

The Dutch government’s advisory committee on the assessment of restitution applications for items of cultural value and the Second World War (or the DRC committee) rejected Christine Koenigs’s claim in 2003.

The DRC rejected another claim made by Christine Koenigs in 2022.



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