ALBANY– A painting looted from a Jewish family by the Nazis in 1933 and later found in Canajoharie’s Arkell Museum was returned to the heirs of its original owners on Thursday, according to authorities.
“The Arkell Museum has been part of making something right at long last. We do take that responsibility very seriously and to heart,” said Suzan D. Friedlander, the executive director and chief curator of the Arkell, during Thursday’s event at the FBI Field Office in Albany.
The painting, called “Winter,” by American artist Gari Melchers, was part of Rudolf Mosse’s art collection. Mosse was a prominent publisher and philanthropist in the early 20th century in Berlin. His family published newspapers like the Berliner Tageblatt, which criticized the Nazi party.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Mosse family fled the country. Nazis then seized the family’s assets and art collection, including “Winter.”
The painting, which depicts a man and woman walking through a snowy landscape, then went through a series of intermediaries. It was ultimately purchased in 1934 by Bartlett Arkell, the co-founder and president of the Beech-Nut Packing Company. According to a previous Gazette article, he purchased the painting from a gallery in New York City.
There is no evidence that Arkell knew the painting was unlawfully taken, according to authorities. It was recovered and seized from the Arkell collection by the Federal Bureau of Investigation nearly a year ago, after an investigation involving the Mosse Art Restitution Project, which operates internationally to recover works of art that were expropriated from the family by the Nazi regime.
In response to the seizure, Friedlander said in a statement: “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. We fully support the work of the Mosse Art Research Initiative and other efforts, and willingly turned over the painting to the FBI.”
“Winter” was symbolically returned on Thursday to Mosse’s step-great-grandson, Roger Strauch, who attended the event via video stream. He thanked those involved with the painting’s recovery and added that “Winter” will likely be sold at auction in the coming months.
“While it’s believed there were hundreds of thousands of pieces of art stolen by the Nazis, our office is immensely proud to help right even just one wrong done during this evil period of world history,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas F. Relford in a press release. “We may have played a small role in a massive effort, but we will forever recognize the magnitude of this work and we’re truly honored to be able to return this painting to its rightful owners.”