The FBI has returned a painting by local artist Gari Melchers that was seized by the Nazis in 1933 to the descendants of its original owners.
The painting, “Winter,” was restored on Thursday to the step-great-grandson of Rudolf Mosse, a German Jewish businessman and publisher who purchased it directly from Melchers at the Berlin Art Exhibition in 1900.
“Injustices do not stand—no matter how long ago they were committed,” said acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon during the virtual repatriation ceremony. “I’m thrilled that we are able to provide a measure of restitution to the Mosse family, who suffered a great injustice many years ago.”
Rudolf Mosse had published articles critical of the Nazi regime early in the 1930s, said Joanna Catron, curator at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Falmouth.
“[Mosse’s] publishing empire was a very progressive voice and very anti-Nazi,” Catron said. “So the Nazis confiscated the art collection and the business and the family fled Germany in 1933.”
Catron said the Mosse art collection was “really the first big collection confiscated by the Nazis.”
“Winter” was sold privately soon after it was seized, Catron said, and made its way to the United States, where it was acquired in 1934 by Barlett Arkell, an industrialist whose collection became the foundation of the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, N.Y.
In 2017, Mosse’s heirs established the Mosse Art Research Initiative to recover their family’s stolen art collection.
Catron said she received a call in 2018 from an attorney representing the Mosse descendants. The attorney was trying to verify that the painting “Winter” in the Arkell Museum’s collection had belonged to Rudolf Mosse.
“I said, ‘no problem,’ because I had this little black book,” Catron said.
The “black book” was an account that the Melchers kept for about six years in the early 1900s, detailing what paintings he sold, to whom and for how much.
“He was so very busy at that time and he was trying to keep track of everything,” Catron said.
Melchers was born in Detroit, but lived and painted in Holland and Germany in the years leading up to World War I, before settling in Stafford County with his wife, Corinne.
In 1900, Melchers noted the sale of “Winter,” a painting in pastel of a man and woman walking in a snowy landscape, to Mosse. The woman is wearing a gold-and-white patterned cape and a bright red cap and carrying wooden skates.
“It was probably not a premier item in his collection, but it must have been something that spoke to Mosse,” Catron said.
She photographed the black book page noting the sale and sent it to the attorney. It became “the icing on the cake” to the Mosse family’s efforts to prove the provenance of the painting, Catron said.
Last year, the Arkell Museum willingly turned over “Winter” to the FBI and this week, it was formally given to the Mosse family foundation.
Catron said that because of the story that is now attached to the painting, its value will probably triple.
“It is probably now a six-figure painting and a pastel typically doesn’t go for that much,” she said.
Melchers painted several other versions of the same scene depicted in “Winter.” A version in oil, titled “Skaters,” is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and another version in pastel and gouache belongs to the Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Stafford.
Catron said she plans to display the version the home and studio has. Also on display is a pair of wooden skates similar to the ones the woman is carrying in the painting.
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