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Cologne Will Return Drawing to Heirs of Elisabeth Linda Martens, Who Sold the Work While Fleeing the Nazis

Catherine Hickley of the Art Newspaper writes that a drawing by Adolph von Menzel, Blick über die Dächer von Schandau (View over the Roofs of Schandau), 1886, sold to art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt by Elisabeth Linda Martens for the Wallraf-Richartz Museum’s collection in 1939, will be returned to Martens’s heirs. Martens likely used the money from the purchase to flee Germany, because her husband was classified as a Jew under the Nazi’s Nuremberg laws. The work was sold under duress.

Gurlitt’s collection has received a great deal of attention over the past few years because his son, Cornelius, had been hiding a trove of valuable artworks inherited from his father in his Munich apartment for decades. Some of these works were stolen by the Nazis or, indeed, taken by coercion.

Hildebrand Gurlitt purchased numerous artworks for Hitler’s Führermuseum, which the dictator was planning to build in Linz. And Gurlitt purchased many pieces from terrified Jewish families, including several more Menzel drawings from members of the same family. Last year, a German government task force for repatriating Nazi-looted works suggested that another drawing by Menzel should be returned to the relatives of Elsa Helene Cohen, Martens’s mother-in-law.

Since Cornelius Gurlitt’s death in 2014, the art collection has been stuck in a legal mire. Cornelius’s cousin, Uta Werner, challenged his soundness of mind to make a will when he bequeathed the collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern. An investigation regarding Gurlitt’s mental capacity while he was drawing up his last will and testament will be presented during a hearing in a Munich court today. A decision will likely be announced in the coming weeks.