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Growing evidence that Göring seized National Gallery’s Cranach from its pre-war owner

We uncover the remarkable story of how a US war reporter governed Hitler’s mountain retreat for a day and took control of Reichsmarschall Göring’s collection of stolen art

The London National Gallery’s Cranach painting of Cupid Complaining to Venus was almost certainly seized from its pre-war owner by Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, Hitler’s deputy. The Cranach had been purchased by the National Gallery in 1963, in good faith, and there was then no indication that it had been looted.

Last month we revealed that in 1945 the US war reporter Patricia Lochridge Hartwell was allowed to take the painting from a warehouse full of art then controlled by US forces in southern Germany (pp1, 4).

Following further investigations, we have uncovered new evidence contained in a war dispatch published by Lochridge (her surname at the time) in the August 1945 issue of the US magazine Woman’s Home Companion. In an astonishing report, she describes how she had been allowed to exercise power for one day as the head of the US military government in Berchtesgaden, the small town near the Austrian border where Hitler had his Eagle’s Nest retreat. Her report was cabled from Germany and referred to a visit in late June or early July 1945, the month after the occupation by US troops.

“As governor, I found I was also responsible for the safety of Göring’s one hundred million dollars’ worth of stolen art,” she wrote. Lochridge had herself photographed holding what was then considered the most valuable masterpiece, Vermeer’s Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery. Very soon afterwards it was revealed that the picture was a fake, painted by the notorious Dutch artist Han van Meegeren.

Challenge

Lochridge begins her article with a dramatic introduction: “Suppose you had the job of governing Hitler’s home town of Berchtesgaden. How would you meet the problems of a wrecked German town?... I tried it for a day.” She had been appointed by Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Smith, of the 101st Airborne Division, who was head of the military government for the area.

Smith had asked her if she would like to see the problems at first hand: “You can be the first American woman in the military government of Germany. I warn you, however, it’s a tough assignment. But Captain Michael Di Pietro will help you.” Lochridge reported: “Of course I said yes! My day began at nine o’clock when I met with the burgomaster [bürgermeister] of Berchtesgaden, Dr Rudolf Kriss. He looked surprised as he entered the military governor’s office to find an American girl in apparent authority behind an enormous desk.”

“Captain Di Pietro introduced me ceremoniously: ‘This is an American correspondent who for the time being will take my place as military governor in the interests of informing the United States about conditions in Berchtesgaden. You will take your orders from Fraülein Kommandant. Understand this clearly.’ The burgomaster bowed so low I thought I heard his short Bavarian leather pants crackle. ‘Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann, I understand, thank you.’… Dr Kriss may have thought that the temporary woman governor would be easier to deal with than a tough paratrooper. But he soon learned I was as firm as any man.”

Lochridge’s day in power was no joke—and no sinecure. She told Woman’s Home Companion readers how she issued her first proclamation, ordering all able-bodied Germans to grow vegetables. She then requisitioned food supplies for 600 displaced persons, including starving slave labourers. Lochridge also helped an Italian girl who had just given birth and had no money to pay the midwife—the boy was named Patton, after Lochridge’s grandfather.

After lunch, Lochridge issued a proclamation requiring Nazi insignia to be removed from street signs and buildings. She then began requisitioning necessities for the 101st Airborne Division’s quartermaster: “mess tables and chairs were needed, and also blackboards for the special service officer.”

One of Lochridge’s prisoners, Lieutenant General Berger, “reluctantly surrendered” several million dollars which he had buried under the floor of a barn. She then ordered workers to report for duty to repair the railway line to Munich, which was needed for the transport of 55,000 prisoners of war. And so it went on, as Lochridge recounted what she did to deal with problems ranging from forestry to public health, from the welfare of the local Jewish community (there was a single member left) to the fate of the local church’s 15th-century canon.

Among her responsibilities for the day was Göring’s art collection. Lochridge explained: “Major Harry Anderson, the [101st Airborne] division’s Fine Arts and Monuments officer, had had the treasures removed from Göring’s home and stored in wooden buildings for cataloguing and restoring. He worried over the danger of fire. I therefore ordered the Landrat [Emil Jacobs, the county’s senior civil servant] to dispatch equipment and firemen to the Göring collection immediately to remain on duty around the clock.”

This art store was located in Unterstein, an Alpine village four kilometres south of Berchtesgaden, in a former Luftwaffe guesthouse. Most of the works of art had been sent by Göring from Karinhall, his mansion outside Berlin, as Allied troops approached the German capital. Göring himself had been captured in Austria on 8 May 1945, the day after Germany surrendered, and the Reichsmarschall was then taken for interrogation at Augsburg.

Göring’s works of art had been located by American forces in Berchtesgaden on 16 May 1945, mainly in a damp underground store. The paintings were immediately moved to Unterstein. Above the door of the three-storey guesthouse a sign was erected: “Hermann Goering’s Art Collection through the courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division.”

There were 1,375 paintings at Unterstein, housed in 40 rooms. There were five Rembrandts, and works by most European masters, including Gerard David, de Hooch, Van Dyck, Rubens, Canaletto, Boucher and Courbet. When Lochridge visited Berchtesgaden in June 1945 she certainly came to the Unterstein store, since she was photographed with Göring’s prized “Vermeer”.

Cranach

The key question is whether Lochridge acquired Cranach’s Cupid Complaining to Venus from Unterstein? It is true that the painting does not figure on Nazi records of Göring’s collection, but it is impossible to know whether such documentation is comprehensive.

What then is the evidence that the Cranach came from Göring? Lochridge later told her children that she was “allowed to take the painting from a warehouse full of art then controlled by US forces in southern Germany”, although no further details are known. There were relatively few such warehouses (the largest was the Munich Collecting Point, and the Cranach is not recorded in its holdings). Unterstein is the only art repository she is known to have visited. Lochridge’s one-day role as head of the local military government would have given her the opportunity to leave with a “souvenir”.

Göring was certainly a keen Cranach collector. When US Fine Arts and Monuments officer Thomas Howe interviewed the Reichsmarschall’s art adviser Walter Andres Hofer in Berchtesgaden he asked what his master liked best, and the immediate response was “Cranach”. Another US officer, James Rorimer, who later became director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, recorded that there were 19 Cranachs and three School of Cranachs in the Unterstein store.

There is further evidence to link Lochridge’s Cupid Complaining to Venus to Unterstein. The September 1945 issue of Woman’s Home Companion includes a photograph of Lochridge, wearing a hat and handbag made from Göring’s military sash (right).

In addition to pictures, the Unterstein guest house contained numerous rooms filled with Göring’s sculptures, tapestries, carpets, Renaissance furniture, porcelain, glassware and books, as well as a “gold” treasury. There was also militaria, including a sword which Mussolini presented to Göring and a baton given by the Luftwaffe. Thomas Howe, a US Fine Arts and Monuments officer, allowed American troops to take the Mussolini sword as a souvenir for their clubroom back in the States. Howe explained that the sword was not a “cultural object”, and it could therefore be removed, and that he had no objection to modern objects being taken for the club from the “gold room”.

Since Lochridge “picked up” the prestigious sash at Berchtesgaden, presumably it was deemed not to be a cultural object that needed to be sent to the Munich Collecting Point. The Cranach, however, should very certainly have gone to Munich. It is not listed in the US inventory compiled at Unterstein, but this was only completed several weeks after Lochridge’s visit.

Our investigations show there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Cupid Complaining to Venus, like the Göring sash, also came from Unterstein.

Aftermath

From Berchtesgaden, Lochridge went on to visit Austria, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Britain, all in two months, before returning to America in August 1945. She later went into publishing, working in New York, Arizona and Hawaii. Lochridge was very interested in art, helping to establish the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and later editing the newsletter of the Arts Council of Hawaii. In 1963 she sold Cupid Complaining to Venus, which went via New York dealer E&A Silberman to the National Gallery in London. Lochridge died in 1998.

What happened to Dr Kriss, the Berchtesgaden bürgermeister who had bowed so deeply when he was introduced to Lochridge? He was a professor and a distinguished specialist on European religious folk art, and later donated his collection to the Bavarian National Museum. Dr Kriss died in 1972.

Göring was put on trial at Nuremberg, and sentenced to death. He poisoned himself two hours before his scheduled execution on 15 October 1946. Although a few of Göring’s paintings may have gone missing, the overwhelming majority had been safely moved from Unterstein to the Munich Collecting Point in early August 1945, a few weeks after Lochridge’s departure. Most of the pictures were subsequently returned to their pre-war owners. If owners could not be traced, the paintings were allocated to museums.

The mystery which remains is the identity of the pre-war owner of Cupid Complaining to Venus, before it was looted by Göring. As we reported last month, the Cranach was auctioned in Berlin in 1909, but the buyer is unknown. Göring assembled his art collection from numerous sources, across occupied Europe. Sometimes the art was looted and sometimes it was obtained from “forced sales”. Cupid Complaining to Venus could have come from Germany, Austria, France or the Low Countries, or almost anywhere in central Europe.