Lost family painting finally returned

By Tyler Clifton, Newswire Live Show Manager

A painting from 1913 which was stolen from its owners by Nazi Germany has been returned to the descendants of the original owners.

The painting, “Flowers,” is an expressionist work painted by Lovis Corinth. This is the first instance where a painting that was looted from a Jewish family was returned by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. 

Expressionist paintings have the goal of expressing the painter’s emotions on the subject of the artwork. The paintings use distorted forms and harsh colors to convey feeling and emotion directly to the viewer. A notable example of this type of painting includes the iconic work “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. These paintings are often hallmarks of museums for their striking imagery that pulls in the viewer.

When asked about the painting’s return to the family, museum director Michel Draguet explained that he would not be upset that the painting was leaving. 

“We were never the owners; we were the custodians for the Belgian state,” Draguet said. The museum took the painting, along with many others without identified owners, in 1951. 

This painting’s original owners, Gustav and Emma Mayer, were a German-Jewish family who fled Germany for Brussels, Belgium, in 1938. Brussels was where “Flowers” and 29 other paintings were last possessed by the family before the outbreak of World War II. In 1939, the Mayers fled once more to England, eventually settling in Bournemouth.

The first of their paintings were stolen by the Nazis in 1942 before the entire collection was taken in 1943. This was a part of the Nazi’s efforts to steal cultural assets of the European Jewish community. Following the end of the war, the Belgian government created the  Economic Recovery Service, which was responsible for the  restitution of missing art. 

Struggles to return the artworks to their proper owners were rampant. In some cases, owners were not able to be identified or there were doubts as to the consent of the sale. Paintings where the ownership could not be determined before the war were looked at as possibly being forced sales. Eventually, the paintings for which they were not able to find owners to return to were placed under the custody of museums throughout Europe.

In the decades following the war, the German governments attempted to find all of the artwork that the Nazis had taken. Clues were difficult to come by, and restitutions were rare. As a result, in the 1970s, the German government paid compensation to families whose art was stolen. 

Following the return of “Flowers,” the Mayer family returned the compensation money to the German government. The family is still looking for clues as to the location of their 29 other paintings. Of the 30 paintings that the Mayer family had at the time, “Flowers” is the only painting that has been  successfully returned to them.