The key work of Expressionism should have been offered for auction in the Evening Sale at Kunsthaus Lempertz in Cologne on 6th June. The painting was formerly in the collection of the Jewish Doctor Blank in Cologne, who sold it in 1936.
In view of this background, the provenance of the painting was researched very thoroughly before the catalogue was published. In doing so, it was determined that the suspicion of looted art in the case of Pechstein’s ‘Selbstbildnis, liegend’ could be ruled out. Accordingly, it was not registered in the Lost Art database. On the day of the auction, one of the heirs of the Blank family had the painting listed without further research and without informing the auction house and the other parties involved, even though an amicable agreement had already been reached with the heirs. The entry by Lost Art without investigation thus surprised us on the auction day. We take a very critical view of this. We follow Professor Papier in that careful checks must be carried out before registration.
Registered bidders, including a museum, were unsettled for no reason by this step. In the case of looted art, museums are liable for restitution, unlike private collectors. In this case, however, there was no reason to doubt the integrity of the painting, and thus there was strong interest in an offer from this institution up until the day of the auction.
In 1956, the painting was explicitly, not sweepingly, compensated by the federal government at the maximum rate. In addition, it was included in several museum exhibitions over the decades, and the whereabouts of the painting was therefore always transparent. The legal examination of this painting and its provenance also established that Pechstein’s ‘Selbstbildnis, liegend’ was not looted art, and in 2016, the lawyer of the descendants of the original owner declared this matter settled. It could therefore have been auctioned in the Evening Sale of 6th June without reservation. The apparently unchecked and unauthorised inclusion in Lost Art on the day of the auction thus briefly unsettled collectors and the interested museum – understandably, if without reason.
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