CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. — A painting that has been in a New York museum for decades has been recovered by the FBI because the Nazis stole it from a Jewish family that fled Germany before World War II.
The painting “Winter,” by American impressionist Gari Melchers, had been in the collection at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie until last month, according to federal court documents.
German publisher Rudolf Mosse bought the painting, which has also been known as “Skaters” and “Snow,” directly from the artist in 1900 at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition.
Mosse died in 1920 and the family’s art collection and publications were passed down to his daughter when his wife died in 1924, according to the documents.
Felicia Lachmann-Mosse and her husband Hans Lachmann-Mosse were persecuted because they were Jewish and because their flagship newspaper Berliner Tageblatt was critical of the Nazi Party, the documents said.
The Mosse family left Germany in 1933 and their assets were taken by the government. Their collection, which included almost 200 pieces of art, was auctioned off by a dealer known to work with the Nazis, the government said.
The family was not compensated for their property, according to the court documents.
The Nazi regime stole thousands of pieces of art from Jewish families during the 1930s and 1940s, or forced owners to sell them for a fraction of their value as owners fled the country. A database of looted artifacts includes more than 25,000 objects, but experts say the number of stolen pieces is much higher.
Felicia Lachmann-Mosse’s remaining heirs have partnered with the Free University of Berlin to form the Mosse Art Research Initiative. The initiative has built a database of stolen paintings from the collection and says it has located eight pieces of art and found information on dozens more.
“Winter” wound up in New York, and businessman Bartlett Arkell bought the painting from a prominent gallery in 1934.
Arkell was a co-founder and president of the Imperial Packing Company, which became the Beech-Nut Packing Co. that was started in Canajoharie. Arkell bought thousands of pieces of art from all over the world for his personal collection.
He went on to found the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie.
“The Arkell Museum was of course very upset to learn the history of the painting’s seizure from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933 and its subsequent sale at the Lepke auction in 1934, said Suzan D. Friedlander, the museum’s executive director and chief curator, in a statement.
She said the museum “willingly turned the painting over to the FBI, waiving all right, title, and interest in the painting.”
Friedlander said the museum supports the family’s efforts to recover the stolen paintings. In recent years, initiatives around the world have attempted to reunite art seized by the Nazis and descendants of owners.
“We have been part of making something right, at long last, and take that responsibility very seriously and to heart,” she said.
The painting is now being held at the FBI facility in Albany, New York, authorities said. It will be returned to Mosse heirs.