Max Liebermann Painting From Cornelius Gurlitt Trove Auctioned In London
An exceptional painting by Max Liebermann discovered in Cornelius Gurlitt’s Home and successfully restituted to its rightful heirs, is to be offered at Sotheby's. Having Last Seen the Painting Hanging in his Great Uncle’s Home Over 75 Years Ago – Before it was Seized by Nazi Officials and then Acquired by Cornelius Gurlitt’s Father. The Original Owner’s Great Nephew Now Recounts the Story.
Two Riders on a Beach was first shown in public in 1901, the year it was painted, following which it was acquired by David Friedmann (1857-1942) of Breslau, a passionate art collector and a prominent figure in society at the time. Friedmann is known to have owned at least two works by Max Liebermann, in addition to works by Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro and Jean-François Raffaëlli, Jozef Israëls, Walter Leistikow.
Having made his fortune in brick production in Silesia, then part of Germany, David Friedmann and his family spent their summers at the grand Neues Schloss on their estate at Grossburg (now Borek Strzeliński, Poland) and the winters in an elegant villa on Ahornallee in Breslau. Over the course of the 1930s David Friedmann was subject to increasing persecution by the Nazis. Forced to hand over his properties to the Nazis one by one, in 1938 he prepared to sign over his country estate to a high-ranking Nazi official.
David Toren, David Friedmann’s great nephew and the only living heir to have seen the painting hanging in his great uncle’s collection before it was seized by the Nazis, recalls: “It was the day after Kristallnacht, 9th November 1938. I was aged thirteen and my father had been arrested that morning by the Gestapo. We learned that he would be released briefly because my father was my great uncle’s lawyer, and his presence was required before my great uncle could sign over his estate to the Nazi General, Ewald von Kleist, who wished to acquire it. Arrangements were made with the Gestapo headquarters where my father was held for him to be escorted to my great uncle’s villa and then returned immediately after.
“Knowing that this would be the last opportunity to spend time with my father before he was detained once more, we packed the warmest clothes my mother and I could find for him to have for his return to the camp, Buchenwald, and beyond. We travelled in the Gestapo’s open-top Mercedes that collected my father and took us to my uncle’s home. I was instructed to wait outside the room in which the paperwork was being signed, and it was there, in the conservatory, that I sat opposite the beautiful painting of the two horse riders on the Beach. I had always liked horses, and it was on my uncle’s estate that I had learned to ride, so I very much admired this painting. That was the last time I saw the work.”
Eventually each of David Friedmann’s properties and art works were lost under the Nazis. He died in 1942 of natural causes. His only child, Charlotte, perished in Auschwitz on the 9thOctober 1942, and the following year David’s father and mother were deported to the same camp where they too died. David Toren managed to escape on a Kindertransport leaving Germany and grew up in Sweden before moving to New York where he lives now.
Commenting on the sale of the work, David Toren said: “I am ninety years old now and blind, so while the return of the painting after so many years is of huge personal significance, I can no longer appreciate the painting as I did all those years ago in my great uncle’s home. Though I am the only living heir to have seen the painting in my great uncle’s home, I am one of a number of heirs and we have decided to sell. The painting can now pass into a new phase of its story.”
The masterpiece, discovered among the trove of art secreted away for decades by the son of the notorious Nazi art dealer, the painting will be sold by the heirs of the painting’s original owner following its successful restitution. Zwei Reiter am Strand nach links (Two Riders on a Beach) of 1901, one of Max Liebermann’s first large-scale oils of horses and riders, is estimated to fetch £350,000 – 550,000 / €480,000 - 750,000 / $540,000 - 850,000 when offered for sale in Sotheby’s London June 24th Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale.