A religious scene by Northern Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder sold under duress by its original German Jewish owner in the years leading up to World War II is coming to auction. It will be sold during Christie’s New York Old Masters evening sale on April 22 as part of a settlement agreement between her heirs and the estate of American dealer and collector Eugene V. Thaw, who died in January 2018.
Cranach’s Resurrection (1530), measuring at 21 3/8 inches-by-15 1/8 inches depicting Christ emerging from a stone tomb surrounded by sleeping soldiers, resurfaced when Thaw’s estate was reviewed for appraisal by Christie’s in 2018. A portion of the estate was sold in October that year for $2.2 million. At the time, the Cranach was by flagged by the auction house’s specialists for further provenance research, as it was believed to have been looted and listed in the German Art Loss registry.
Now, it is among the most valuable works coming from the remaining collection. It is expected to fetch a price of $800,000–$1.2 million.
Christie’s said that, through further research, it uncovered that the work’s Berlin-based original owner, Margarete Eisenmann, inherited the work from her father-in-law. She later sold it under duress as payment of a discriminatory tax known as the Jewish Wealth Levy, or Judenvermögensabgabe, instated under the Nazi regime in 1938. The tax required German Jews with an annual income over RM 5,000 to pay 20 percent of their assets to the state.
According to Christie’s, archival materials indicate that, after the the painting was sold, it was acquired by Hitler’s Reich Chancellery in Berlin, the site of his headquarters and, toward the end of the war, his suicide.
At age 75, Eisenmann was arrested and sent to the Theriesenstandt Ghetto in September 1942 and eventually killed at the Treblinka concentration camp. Her estate was later seized and auctioned off. After the war, in 1949, the Cranach painting resurfaced in a Sotheby’s sale in London, where it had been consigned by dealer Hans W. Lange, the head of an eponymous auction house known for forced sales of Jewish-owned property. It sold for £700. Later, it passed through the hands of New York dealers Hugo Perls and the Knoedler gallery before Thaw bought it around 1968.
Eisenmann’s heirs would later attempt to recover the Cranach—first her only surviving son Günther, then her grandson Percy Henschel, who survived persecution after his grandmother and mother were killed. No other works from the family’s estate are known to have been successfully recovered.
“The last time it was seen, it was hanging on a wall in Hitler’s chancellery,” Henschel, who died in 2007, said in an interview with the Guardian in 2006. At the time, he believed the work was held in storage at a German or Austrian museum. “This painting represents all that I lost.”