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The Norton Simon Museum is battling to keep 'Adam' and 'Eve'

An heir to an art dealer who had them looted by the Nazis has staked a claim to the museum's prized works.

August 22, 2009|Suzanne Muchnic

The "Adam" and "Eve" pair has been a fixture in Pasadena for decades. But as Holocaust restitution research has escalated, a sketchy alternate version of their history has emerged. Unearthed documents indicate that the Cranachs were hidden in several locations in Kiev from 1919 to 1929, when they were sent to Leningrad in preparation for the Berlin auction.

No one disputes that the paintings were sold in the Stroganoff auction. But a case study in the American Assn. of Museums' Guide to Provenance Research concludes that the Cranachs were among works from various sources added to the sale to give them a "noble" provenance and disguise the fact that they were actually being sold by the government.

There is no evidence that the Cranachs belonged to the Stroganoffs, said Amy Walsh, curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings and head of provenance research at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and one of three authors of the AAM guide. But many questions remain about the ownership of the paintings.

Von Saher, the widow of the Goudstikkers' son, knew little of his family's history until 1997, when a journalist informed her that the Dutch government was reconsidering claims against Nazi loot. She filed a claim for 267 artworks and in February 2006 received 202 works that had been housed in Dutch museums. Government officials said that the Goudstikker affair had been handled properly in legal terms and that Von Saher got the paintings on moral grounds.

Von Saher consigned about 170 of the artworks to auctions in 2007 and sold others privately, reportedly reaping about $25 million. One of the works, a 17th century landscape by French artist Claude Lorrain, landed in the collection of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Time will tell whether "Adam" and "Eve" will remain on public view in Pasadena or go to Von Saher, who would be free to sell them to the highest bidder.

Legal documents state that she discovered the whereabouts of the Cranachs in November 2000. Her attorney contacted the Simon about her claim the following year, well within the three-year requirement. But the museum maintains that it is the rightful owner of the paintings -- whether or not they belonged to the Stroganoffs -- because Stroganoff Scherbatoff acquired clear title to them under Dutch law and because the artworks were in the public eye 30 years before Von Saher made her claim.

suzanne.muchnic

@latimes.com

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