New evidence has come to light in the search for a lost Arnold Böcklin masterpiece from a highly unlikely source, the Art Newspaper has reported. The question now being asked by art professionals and restitution experts alike, is whether a painting in the background of two photographs by Helmut Newton – is a missing masterpiece by Arnold Böcklin? titled ‘Tritonenfamilie’ (Triton family), 1880-81.
The work in the photographs certainly resembles it. The painting was looted from the collection of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, which is now the Kulturhistorisches Museum in Magdeburg, central Germany, at the end of the Second World War.
In 1943 the work of art was moved to a salt mine in Strassfurt for safekeeping. Museum historian Tobias von Elsner believes the original painting was probably looted by allied troops, German civilians, or forced labourers. There is also the possibility that it may have been destroyed in a fire that broke out in the mine in 1945, although von Elsner believes the piece “probably survived.”
The painting can be seen in the background of Newton’s ‘Jenny Kapitan, Pension Dorian, Berlin’ (1977), which was shot at a Berlin hotel, and in a photograph of the Playboy model Yvonne Honsa (1999), which was taken in Newton’s Monte Carlo apartment.
The Kulturhistorisches Museum first learned of Linnebach’s discovery in 2008. The museum directors have made several unpublicised efforts since then to obtain further information on the alleged missing Böcklin piece from June Newton, the photographer’s 91-year-old widow.
But it is still unclear whether the masterpiece used as a prop was indeed the original painting. Matthias Harder, curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin told TAN “We know that it cannot be the original Böcklin.”
Having said that, there are certainly no known replicas made by the artist, and the chances of a different painter copying the original after its disappearance are highly unlikely, as no colour photographs of the original have ever existed.