Painting, sold under Nazis, returned to owner’s estate

An oil painting was returned Tuesday to the estate of a Jewish art dealer who was forced to consign the painting and other artwork under Nazi Germany before fleeing the country.

The painting, “Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe,” was done in 1632 by an unknown painter from the Northern Netherlandish school, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in southern New York. It was owned by Max Stern, an art dealer who had a gallery in Dusseldorf, Germany, until 1937, when the Nazis’ Reich Chamber for Fine Arts ordered him to liquidate the gallery and its inventory, the statement said. Stern, who died in 1987, left no heirs. He and his wife had founded the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which directly benefits Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, according to a statement from U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The painting was returned Tuesday — Holocaust Remembrance Day — to Clarence Epstein of Concordia University on behalf of the executors of the estate, said Lou Martinez of the immigration agency. It was returned in a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, he said. The painting had been owned by Philip Mould Ltd., a London, England, gallery, when Lawrence Steigrad, a New York art dealer, bought it in 2008, the New York attorney’s office said. Neither had any idea of the painting’s past. Philip Mould Ltd. had purchased the painting the year before from Lempertz Auction House. The same auction house sold the painting in 1937 after Stern was forced to liquidate, without receiving any proceeds from the sale, the New York attorney’s office said. Immigration agents used information from a Holocaust claims office in the New York state Banking Department to look into Steigrad’s gallery. The art dealer “confirmed the painting was in his possession.” and he eventually allowed agents to seize the painting, the attorney’s office said.