Jewish Critic’s Heir Settles on Painting Lost in Nazi Era

A museum in the German city of Neuss reached a settlement with the heir of a Jewish art critic forced to flee Nazi-era Berlin, ending a dispute over a painting by Joachim Ringelnatz that was lost due to persecution.

The Clemens Sels Museum agreed to pay 7,000 euros ($9,000) to keep the 1925 painting “Dachgarten der Irrsinnigen” (Roof Garden for the Insane), an e-mail sent by the German Culture Ministry said.

The painting belonged to Paul Westheim, the editor of an influential art magazine closed down by the Nazis in 1933. He fled for Paris, leaving his collection with a friend for safekeeping. He never saw it again. The Neuss museum purchased the Ringelnatz work from a Dusseldorf gallery. Today’s settlement was mediated by a German government panel led by former constitutional judge Jutta Limbach.

“Westheim had to give up possession of the picture because he emigrated as a result of persecution,” the panel said in its statement. “The advisory commission suggested a settlement. This was achieved by both parties agreeing to compromise.”

The agreement may pave the way for other returns to Westheim’s heir, Margit Frenk, who lives in Mexico. She has staked claims to paintings worth millions, including Jean Pougny’s “Still Life With White Bottle” in the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin, according to her lawyer, Gunnar Schnabel.

“We will write to (Berlin Mayor Klaus) Wowereit asking for the Pougny painting to be restituted,” Schnabel said in a telephone interview after the panel issued its recommendation.

Washington, Limbach

Germany is one of more than 40 countries that endorsed the non-binding Washington Principles on returning Nazi-looted art in public collections in 1998. The panel, known as the Limbach Commission, was founded in 2003.

Paul Westheim, born in 1886, was editor of the monthly art magazine “Das Kunstblatt,” one of the most important periodicals in Germany until it was forced to close by the Nazis in 1933, according to the book “Lost Lives, Lost Art” by Monika Tatzkow and Melissa Muller.

His passion was contemporary art, and he counted the sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck and the painter Oskar Kokoschka among his friends.