The stories a painting can tell: The Nazis in Paris

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, May 19, 2024

The stories a painting can tell: The Nazis in Paris
James Northcote, Portrait of Master Semon with a Spaniel, signed by James Northcote, inscribed and dated on the chest in the lower left Alex r. Semon born in London April. 5. 1791 . and drawn July . 5 . 1796. Oil on canvas, 44 ¼ x 34 7/8 inches (112.8 x 89 cm.).

NEW YORK, NY.- As a viewer, we often look at the subject of a painting to engage us. Maybe we look at the technique in which the paint is applied by the artist, the use of color or brush strokes. Sometimes the life of the artist becomes a particularly intriguing point, but occasionally one comes across a picture in which the life of the painting itself exceeds that of the artist, subject or style. This is one of those paintings.

James Northcote was known as a painter of portraits and in particular excelled at children’s portraits. He also painted historical, genre and animal scenes. In 1771 he came to London from Plymouth and entered the Royal Academy Schools. He worked as an assistant to Joshua Reynolds from 1771 – 1775. From 1777 – 1780 he was in Rome studying where he formed a deep appreciation for Correggio, the Italian Mannerists and the Roman Baroque. By 1781 he had permanently settled in London and had become a Royal Academician by 1787, painting and signing our picture in 1796.

It’s unknown when this charming painting entitled Portrait of Master Semon with a Spaniel entered the stock of one of the most significant, well-known art dealers in the world, Arnold Seligmann. Arnold Seligmann & Cie was a Parisian art and antiquities dealership located in the Place Vendôme. The gallery was established in 1932 after a falling out with his brother Jacques, who had established the original gallery in 1880. By the mid 1930’s, both establishments were among the most prominent dealers in the world, but unfortunately things would not stay so blissful.

By June 1940, the Nazi’s had fully occupied Paris and were on an active shopping spree to fill the Führer’s planned museum in Linz and Hermann Göring’s private collection, giving orders to loot any art or objects they deemed fit. Given that Seligmann was a very renowned art dealer, naturally he was a perfect target for this sweeping pillaging that was taking place. In July 1940, the German Ambassador to France oversaw a series of seizures including at the Seligmann Gallery. Everything was taken, and the family later burned all the records to ensure the Nazi’s had no information.

After being in the hands of the German Ambassador, who had great plans of his own for the art he had stolen (including the Northcote), the booty was then confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). The creation of the ERR was a direct result of the professed ideological objective of the Reich leadership to ‘study’ Jewish life and, in particular, Jewish culture. The original proposal was to collect archives and books to create an institution devoted to anti-Jewish studies. However, by October 1940, at the insistence of Hermann Göring, the ERR quickly morphed into a greed machine for Nazi plunder of any and all works of art—not only paintings and works on paper, but also antique furniture, carpets, tapestries, objects d’art, and antiquities.

Our Northcote painting, along with hundreds of other works, which were at the German Embassy, were moved first to several rooms in the Louvre, but space there was too limited. By the end of October, the ERR set up shop for processing at the Jeu de Paume. Here items were inventoried, photographed, and assigned unique ERR alphanumeric codes reflecting the collection owner’s name. The Northcote was coded Sel. 5 which is still visible today on its stretcher and reverse of the frame.

During the next four years, until early August 1944, the ERR seized over 200 private Jewish collections in France and Belgium, with other Nazi organizations looting art in other parts of Europe, and dispatched many of the contents to special ERR art repositories in Bavaria and Austria. Most of the earliest art shipments from Paris went to the main ERR art repository in the legendary Bavarian castle of Neuschwanstein, but some of the most valuable art first sent to Neuschwanstein was transferred to the salt mines above Altaussee in near-by Austria, where the ERR was allotted a special storage area. At some point the Northcote was transported from the Jeu de Paume to its next recorded location in the mines above Altaussee.

As the Nazi’s were beginning to accept their fate, they went into full destruction mode. Hitler gave the so-called ‘Nero Decree’- instructing the Germans to destroy all infrastructure- a scorched earth plan to ensure the Allies were left with nothing. Taking those orders to heart, Nazi Gauleiter August Eigruber had plans to blow up the mines at Altaussee, transporting eight 500 kg bombs into the tunnels disguised as crated marble sculptures. His plans, however, were thwarted by a combination of local miners wanting to save their livelihood and Nazi officials who considered Eigruber’s plan idiocy, according to books by Robert Edsel and Lynn Nicholas. On the night of May 3-4, 1945, it was possible to remove the embedded bombs from the mine. To bluff Gauleiter Eigruber and to prevent further access to the treasures, the major entrances into the mine were blown up. After the occupation of Altaussee on May 8, 1945 by an American infantry unit, the art depot was seized by the U.S. Army (Monuments Men). The entrances were opened again and the rescue work began. Our Portrait of Master Semon with a Spaniel was saved, along with 1000’s of other works including Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna as well as Vermeer’s The Art of Painting and The Astronomer.

In early June of that year, the artworks were slowly brought to the Central Art Collecting Point in Munich and by June 20, 1945, the Northcote’s history and details had been catalogued on a “Property Card Art” and given the Munich number 216/1. The painting remained at the Collecting Point until July 11, 1946, when it was sent back to France and ultimately restituted to the Seligmann family. Arnold Seligmann had returned from exile in New York to Paris in the summer of 1945, but sadly died a few weeks later. The Northcote is next recorded as being sold at auction in Paris in January 1951. It eventually became part of a private collection in Louisville, Kentucky, and then was given to a non-profit institution in Louisville from which it was deaccessioned in 2020, its past unknown.

So, now this charming 18th century portrait of a boy and his dog is looking for its new home. Having travelled through some of the darkest days in our history, it’s nothing short of miraculous that it, with some many other pieces of culture emerged unscathed. Helping to tell a story of loss and redemption, this painting has lived – what feels like – a thousand lives, and clearly has more to tell. Art can move us in so many ways, but to look in this little boy’s eyes and think about what he has seen, that is definitely one of the many reasons that art is history and history is art.

To read a more detailed account of the life of this painting, click here.

Today's News

August 12, 2022

The new 'Monuments Officers' prepare to protect art amid war

Why Steve Jobs chose this designer's turtlenecks

The superbly original, gloriously weird B-52's say farewell to the road

The stories a painting can tell: The Nazis in Paris

The world's best architects and designers answer the PMA's call to build A landmark for the future

Giampaolo Bianconi joins Art Institute of Chicago as Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Carolina Caycedo presents her first major survey in Europe at BALTIC

Walters Art Museum announces two major hires

Pi Artworks announced its representation of artist Albano Hernández

David Kordansky Gallery announced the representation of The Estate of Betty Woodman

Modern and ancient crickets may sing the same song

Julien's Auctions announces Property from the Estate of Kenny Rogers

Solo exhibition of world-renowned artist Radcliffe Bailey opens at Knoxville Museum of Art

Alteronce Gumby joins Nicola Vassell Gallery

The Hugh Lane Gallery presents 'Bones in the Attic'

Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art opens Present Box Exhibition: Claire Ashley: Plump, Pucker, Squish

Frist Art Museum presents Elise Kendrick: Salon Noir

Joan Mitchell Foundation appoints Solana Chehtman Director of Artist Programs

What to do with an absent father? Cast him as a character onstage.

Frank Miller sues Widow of comics magazine editor for the return of artworks

Large-scale steel sculpture by Vermont-based artist David Stromeyer installed at Shelburne Museum

A bigger canvas for Jayson Musson includes puppets and Picasso

King Henry VIII signed document sponsoring the feast day of St. George sold for $66,435 at auction

How to Protect Your Cryptocurrency Investments in 2022 by Dennis Loos

How to Improve Your Art Quality? : Essential Tips

Answer to The Top 10 Questions Asked About Cremation Urns

Best Scrap Car in Singapore - An Overview

10 Benefits of Stretching

Expert Interior Design Tips for Decorating with Mirrors

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful