Gawking at $135 Million in Nazi Loot
I went to see it immediately. It was hung in the main entrance hall at the time, and it was clear that the Met had itself a treasure.
Six years later, the Met bought Monet’s “Terrace at Sainte-Adresse” for $1.4 million. Again, the art world was convulsed. Intrigued and dubious, I went to see it the day it went on display. My instant reaction: this was the most beautiful and evocative painting I had ever seen.
In 2004—after many years of museum and gallery hopping in the U.S. and around the world—I was invited to a private viewing of “Manet and the Sea” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibition was sponsored by one of the big banks in town and I found myself completely alone with that Monet masterpiece some 37 years after having first seen it.
I sat down on a bench across from it and spent a good half hour. I came away believing that it was even better than I remembered and is still the most beautiful and evocative painting I have ever seen.
The Great Art Conspiracy
One of the greatest heists of the 20th century was the Nazi theft of art from museums and private collections all over Europe—from France to Russia. For example, it is estimated that 21,903 objects were seized in France, with 9,000 of them looted from the Rothschild, David-Weill and Kann families alone.
“The Führer loves art because he himself is an artist,” crowed Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. “Under his blessed hand, a Renaissance has begun.”
Literally millions of objects were stolen, and many were recovered and returned to their rightful owners. But the conspiracy continues to this day. Many of these stolen works were acquired by private collectors and museums around the world—all of whom are loath to so much as look into the provenance, let alone return them to the heirs of the former owners. Rather they continue to display them—or, more likely, hide them in their vaults—hoping that the rightful owners will die off or lose interest. Such would have been the fate of the Klimt portrait had it not been for the persistence of Mme. Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann, 90.