Jan Meisels Allen
Winter Credit: Gari Melchers
The painting “Winter” by American impressionist Gari Melchers was one of more than 200 pieces of artwork seized by Nazis when the Mosse family fled their home in Germany in 1933. It is a painting of two young 19th century skaters and was recently discovered in a small museum in upstate New York. “Winter,” sometimes known as “Skaters” or “Snow,” was purchased in 1900 by publishing magnate Rudolf Mosse, who displayed it in a grand Berlin residence loaded with fine art.
The Mosse family spoke out about the Nazis early on in their newspaper Berliner Tageblatt. The negative attention earned the Mosses the ire of the Nazis, who publicly criticized the family and later looted their extensive collection of artwork. Heirs have been tenaciously seeking to recover the lost pieces for the past decade.
The Mosse Art Restitution Project was started in 2011 to locate and restitute the stolen artworks on behalf of the Mosse heirs. They have completed three dozen restitutions covering more than 50 items from public and private museums as well as private individuals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel and the United States.
Rudolf Mosse was a prominent publisher from the well-known family. He purchased the painting -- also been known as "Skaters" and "Snow" -- directly from the artist in 1900 at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. Mosse died in 1920 and the family's art collection and publications were passed down to his daughter when his wife died in 1924, according to federal court documents.
The painting went from the Nazis to a number of people before businessman Bartlett Arkell bought it from a prominent gallery in 1934. There was no evidence of Arkell knowing the painting had been stolen Since 1934, the painting has been in the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York. When the museum learned the painting was taken illegally, it surrendered the art to the FBI in 2019.
"Winter" has an estimated value in the hundreds of thousands, but the figure will be determined in auction. The painting is expected to be auctioned off by Sotheby's.
There have been three dozen successful restitutions of over 50 Mosse pieces. There are eight ongoing restitutions in Poland, Sweden, Germany, Israel and US.
The restitution started when the Arkell Museum noted its seasonal closing in January 2017 with a Facebook posting that was illustrated with the picture of “Winter”. The post was noticed by a student who was working the person who heads the Mosse Art Research Initiative which is a university-based collaboration involving Mosse heirs and German public cultural institutions.
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Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee