New York Governor George Pataki announced a Holocaust-era painting recovery negotiated by the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) of the New York State Banking Department. The recovery of Portrait of Jean d’Albon by Corneille De Lyon, follows the announcement of another major Holocaust-era art recovery made by the Governor earlier this month.
Nearly 57 years to the day of the original owner’s filing a report with the Austrian authorities claiming lost furnishings and works of art, the HCPO announced the end of part of the search. HCPO notified Kurt Schindler, the sole executor of the Estate of Julius Priester, a Viennese art collector, that Portrait of Jean d’Albon by Corneille De Lyon was recovered. It is the 12th looted artwork claim resolved by the HCPO to date.
“The return of this painting is another example of our ongoing efforts to seek a measure of justice for those who were victimized during one of the darkest periods in history,” Pataki said. “I am incredibly proud of the Banking Department’s painstaking work to recover looted bank accounts, insurance policies and art works on behalf of Holocaust survivors and their heirs world-wide.”
Corneille de Lyon, a Dutch court painter to the Dauphin, later Henry II of France, painted Portrait of Jean d’Albon in the 16th century. The subject of the painting, M. d’Albon held a number of political offices in France and became the governor of Lyon in 1539. Julius Priester, the owner of Portrait of Jean d’Albon, lived in Vienna, Austria. As a result of Nazi persecution, Priester fled to Mexico in 1938. His collection of paintings and furnishings was seized by the Gestapo in 1944.
The HCPO’s experience and reputation for reportedly swiftly resolving art claims without litigation inspired Schindler, as Priester’s executor, to file a claim with the HCPO in March of 2004 to assist him in recovering the painting.
Schindler had discovered that Portrait of Jean d’Albon, once a part of Julius Priester’s art collection, was in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), in Richmond, Va. The HCPO contacted the VMFA and ultimately reached an amicable agreement between the claimant and the VMFA whereby the VMFA agreed to promptly return the painting to Schindler.
Schindler said, “I am deeply grateful to Monica Dugot and the HCPO for the splendid work they have done. Given that the VMFA rightly recognized that complete wartime and post-war information is difficult to obtain in most cases and that gallery records in the United States and Europe are often inaccessible, I hope that the recovery of the Corneille de Lyon will assist me with the recovery of other looted paintings from the collection of Julius Priester I am currently pursuing.”
Superintendent of Banks Diana Taylor said, “This case is an excellent example of the success that can be achieved where there is an open and frank exchange of information among the parties involved. As is typical of most Holocaust era looted art cases, the documentation was incomplete.
“However, the information we did have made it clear that the only morally acceptable decision was to return the Corneille de Lyon’s Portrait of Jean d’Albon to the heirs of the rightful owner, the heirs of Julius Priester. We are grateful to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and by extension the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the sensitivity they have shown and the speed with which they were able to act. We all know that in these cases, time is not our friend.”
Before fleeing to Mexico, Priester stored his belongings with a storage firm, Speditionsfirma Max Föhr. In February 1944, Priester’s possessions, including paintings, were seized by the Gestapo from the Max Föhr depot in Vienna. Although it was not exactly clear what happened to Priester’s paintings once they were seized, the HCPO made clear that it was reasonable to assume that the Vugesta, the “Verwertungsstelle für jüdisches Umzugsgut der Gestapo,” was involved in the disposal of his property. The Vugesta was created in 1940 as the administrative entity responsible for assessing, selling and subsequently accounting for the sale of household effects owned by Viennese Jews and intended for shipment abroad but which were instead seized by the Gestapo.
On May 20, 1947, Max Föhr, through Priester’s attorney, filed a report with the Austrian authorities claiming lost furnishings and works of art. Attached with this filing was a list of 51 of Priester’s paintings dated May 4, 1937, referencing Portrait of Jean d’Albon. This matter was also brought to the attention of the police in Vienna who in turn published pictures, including a photograph of Portrait of Jean d’Albon in a police circular dated May 21, 1954. Schindler ultimately located the painting in the VMFA’s collection in early 2004.
Corneille de Lyon was a Dutch-born French painter who lived circa 1500-1575. After moving to Lyon, France, in the 1530s, he was commissioned as a court painter to Henry II and Charles IX. Mainly known as a portrait painter, he painted many members of the Valois Court. His naturalistic paintings were typically small, with the sitter usually set against a plain green or blue background. Although only one work exists that is definitively his, many works of a similar style are attributed to him.
On May 7, 2004 Pataki announced the return of a cherished painting and family heirloom, entitled Mädchenkopf (Head of a Girl) to the Fein family. The Fein family chose to donate the painting to the Leo Baeck Institute, a research and lecture center dedicated to the study of German Jewish history.
The HCPO seeks to recover assets deposited in European banks, recover monies never paid in connection with insurance policies issued by European insurers and reclaim lost or looted art for the rightful heirs. The office processes all claims for free.
Since it was opened in 1997, it has received a total of 4,754 claims from 45 states and 37 countries regarding Holocaust-era bank accounts, insurance policies or lost or stolen art. The HCPO has been able to return approximately $16 million in bank claims, almost $9 million in insurance claims and has settled 12 art claims to date.
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