Bartholomäus Spranger, Mercury Carriers Psyche to Mount Olympus, ca. 1576. Photo: Christie’s

Family Persecuted by Nazis to Receive Restitution for Lost Art

More than eighty years after Jewish museum director Curt Glaser sold his art collection under duress in order to leave Nazi Germany, his family will receive compensation for an artwork they thought had been lost.

Glaser auctioned Bartholomäus Spranger’s Mercury Carriers Psyche to Mount Olympus, ca. 1576, along with the rest of his collection, to finance his family’s immigration to the United States after he was forced into retirement in September 1933. Glaser was a respected collector and art historian who served as director of the State Art Library of Berlin from 1924 until his removal from office.

Art dealer Wolfgang Gurlitt acquired the painting during one of the auctions of Glaser’s belongings, which included his furniture and art library, at the Internationales Kunst- und Auktionshaus on May 9, 1933. Upon the dealer’s death in 1965, the painting was purchased from the Lempertz auction house in Cologne by German private collectors and has remained in their care ever since.

Sally Metzler, an art historian and expert on the works of Spranger, discovered the piece, which had previously only been known to scholars by virtue of an old black-and-white photograph. Spranger gave the work to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Vienna after the death of his father, Emperor Maximilian, and it was recorded in the inventory of his famous Kunstkammer in 1621.

When its current owners learned of the work’s provenance, they contacted Glaser’s heirs and agreed to sell the work at Christie’s in London on December 7—the heirs will receive a portion of the proceeds. In a joint statement, both parties called the settlement “just and fair.” The auction house estimated that the work should net between $525,000 and $788,000. Henry Pettifer, the head of old-master paintings at Christie’s in London, told the Art Newspaper that the work is “one of the most significant paintings by the artist still remaining in private hands.”