A Norwegian museum has agreed to the restitution of a $20m (£12m) Matisse painting stolen by the Nazis from the highly regarded Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg. The masterpiece was created in 1937 and owned by the dealer, who also represented Picasso and other artists considered degenerate by the Third Reich.
In 1941 Rosenberg was forced to escape Nazi persecution. He first fled to London settling in New York for the duration of the war. His collection was confiscated and later sold by unscrupulous Nazi appointed art dealers. A total of 162 works were looted by the fascist organisation Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).
The painting titled ‘Blue Dress in a Yellow Armchair’ was on display at the Henie Onstad Art Centre (HOK) in Oslo where it has been on view since 1968. The Matisse was acquired in good faith, by Niels Onstad a shipping magnet and his wife the Olympic figure-skating champion, Sonja Henie.
The painting shows a woman sitting in a drawing room in front of a fireplace with another painting by Matisse hanging over the mantle. “Henie’s connections with Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials made her the subject of controversy before, during, and after World War II. During her amateur skating career, she performed often in Germany and was a favorite of German audiences and of Hitler personally. As a wealthy celebrity, she moved in the same social circles as royalty and heads of state and made Hitler’s acquaintance as a matter of course”
The heirs of Paul Rosenberg’s estate contacted the Henie Onstad Art Centre in 2012, presenting clear documentation of ownership and that the masterpiece was unlawfully taken. It is thought that 650,000 artworks and decorative arts were stolen from Jews and other victims during the war. Very few have been recovered.