Chagall painting stolen by Nazis sells for $7.4 million at auction in New York


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A painting by Marc Chagall, one of 15 works stolen by the Nazis and eventually returned by France to the heirs of the bereaved families, was auctioned in New York on Tuesday for $7.4 million.

The sale at the Phillips auction house was part of the fall auction season, in which major industry players sell hundreds of works of art for several billion dollars in the posh neighborhoods of Manhattan in a matter of days.

On Tuesday, Phillips sold 46 works for nearly $139 million. The most expensive, a monumental painting by Cy Twombly, “Untitled” (2005), which once belonged to French businessman Francois Pinault, went for $41.6 million.

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Chagall’s 1911 oil on canvas, “The Father”, was purchased in 1928 by a Polish-Jewish violin maker, David Cender, who lost his belongings when he was forced to move to the Lodz ghetto.

Deported to Auschwitz, where his wife and daughter were murdered, the violin maker survived and moved to France in 1958, where he died in 1966 without recovering the painting.

Meanwhile, the work had returned to exhibitions and it turned out to be Marc Chagall himself who had bought it, probably between 1947 and 1953 — without knowing its provenance, according to Phillips and the French Ministry of Culture.

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After the Russian Empire-born artist died in France in 1985, “The Father” entered the national collections in 1988 and was then assigned to the Center Pompidou and deposited in the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris.

Earlier this year, France’s parliament unanimously passed a law to return 15 works from Jewish families that had been looted by the Nazis. The then culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, called it a historic “first step,” noting that other looted artworks and books were still held in public collections.

Cender’s heirs decided to sell the painting, a common scenario “when a work is returned so long after it’s been stolen,” because “you have multiple heirs and the work itself can’t be split,” said Phillips deputy chairman, Jeremy Evarts.

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Chagall painted his father’s portrait the year he arrived in Paris. He was “electrified by the modernism” of the city at the time and his works from that period are rare.

“Many of them were destroyed when he left Paris to return to Russia in 1914,” Evarts noted, saying he was confident “The Father” would attract the interest of museums and collectors.

Phillips did not disclose details about who bought the work, which is common practice with auction houses.



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