November 11, 2019

FBI Seizes Stolen Melchers Painting

"Winter" by Gari Melchers.

“Winter” by Gari Melchers.

A painting by renowned local artist Gari Melchers has been seized by the FBI where it has hung in the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York, since 1934. The painting has been declared as property illegally and forcibly obtained by the Nazis, according to a report by the Washington Examiner, Oct. 18, 2019. The courts will determine who is the rightful owner of the property.

In the years leading up to WWI, American painter Gari Melchers was an expatriate headquartered in Holland and Weimar, Germany. He enjoyed the patronage of important German businessmen and manufacturers like German-American exporter Hugo Reisinger, the Krupp steel and armament dynasty, and Rudolf Mosse, the media giant whose flagship newspaper was the Berliner Tageblatt.

Mosse, a Jew, was a philanthropist and prolific collector of art. In 1900, he visited the Great Berlin Art Exhibition, an international forum of contemporary art, where he acquired a pastel painting entitled Winter by Melchers. The painting features a picturesque Dutch couple as they amble before a wintery village backdrop with skates and skating stick in tow.

When Mosse died in 1920, his extensive art collection, including the Melchers painting, passed to his wife, and following her death in 1924, to his sole heir, his daughter Felicia Lachmann-Mosse. When her husband, Hans, assumed control of his father-in-law’s publishing empire, his press was sharply critical of the rising Nazi powers. When the Reich began to target Jews in business and the media, the Lachmann-Mosses fled Germany and surrendered their businesses and all other holdings, including their art collection, to the state in August 1933.

The surviving heirs of Felicia Lachmann-Mosse have sought restitution of the family art collection confiscated under duress, establishing the Mosse Art Research Initiative (MARI) project with the assistance of the investigating unit of BartkoZankelBunzel. Joanna Catron, curator of the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, Falmouth, assisted the effort by providing papers documenting Rudolf Mosse’s purchase directly from the artist and Winter’s reappearance in 1934 at a Macbeth Gallery sale, New York. Subsequently several gaps in the picture’s trail have been closed.

Winter appeared as Skaters in a 1933 inventory of the Mosse collection in a Rudolf Lepke auction house sales catalog, Berlin, prepared by Nazi collaborator Karl Haberstock. Skaters was sold by Lepke in 1934 to an unknown buyer and appeared a short time later at the MacBeth Art Gallery in New York City, where it was sold on consignment to Bartlett Arkell, the American founder of the Beech-Nut Packing Company. It has hung in the museum he founded in Canajoharie, New York, until Sept. 10, 2019, when it was seized by the FBI.

The story regarding the seizing of Mosse’s publishing empire and art collections by the Third Reich and recent efforts to make restitution to his descendants is featured in the June 2018 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio is a 28-acre estate and former residence of the artist Gari Melchers and his wife, Corinne. The property, which is operated by the University of Mary Washington, is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Located at 224 Washington St. in Falmouth, Virginia, a quarter mile west of the intersection of U.S. 1 and U.S. 17, it is open daily with an admission charge.