Investigative bureaus all around the world have lately been very invested in returning looted artwork to its rightful owners, a process that is simultaneously hopeful in its execution and inadequate in its attempts to fully correct the wrongs of centuries previous. Nevertheless, the slow trickle of art away from storied locations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Quai Branly Museum has been fascinating to observe as it unfolds. This week, reports emerged revealing that the FBI had confiscated a painting from the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York; a small town approximately 200 miles north of Manhattan. According to the Times Union, the painting, which is called Winter and was made by American artist Gari Melchers, was stolen from a German-Jewish publisher’s family by the Nazis in 1933.
Rudolf Mosse, the original purchaser of the painting, was a media magnate and philanthropist who published a periodical newspaper called Berliner Tageblatt that was regularly critical of the Nazi party. After Mosse’s death in 1920, the Reich increasingly persecuted Jewish business owners and members of the press—Mosse’s descendants were forced to leave Germany and surrender their robust art collection along with other possessions to the state. Throughout the early 20th century the Melchers painting, which was among these seized possessions, continued to reappear in auctions, one of which was organized by a Nazi collaborator named Karl Haberstock.
Eventually, Winter was bought by Bartlett Arkell, an American industrialist who served as president of the Beech-Nut Packing Company for 50 years and who founded the museum in which the painting sat until September of this year, when it was confiscated by the FBI. Suzan D. Friedlander, the Arkell Museum’s executive director and chief curator, told the Times Union that the institution “was of course very upset to learn the history of the painting’s seizure from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933 and its subsequent sale at the Lepke Auction in 1934.” She went on record to say the institution willingly forfeited the work. “We fully support the work of the Mosse Art Research Initiative and other efforts, and willingly turned over the painting to the FBI, waiving all right, title, and interest in the painting.”
Winter, which has had an inarguably long journey, is currently in storage in Albany until it can be returned to the Mosse family in restitution.