The Art Newspaper can reveal that a Cranach masterpiece in the National Gallery in London was taken from Germany by an American journalist at the end of World War II. Cupid Complaining to Venus was probably seized by the Nazis from a Jewish owner and is then likely to have passed into the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. It was then impounded by US soldiers.
The discovery that Cupid Complaining to Venus was spoliated was only recently made and the National Gallery is now trying to identify the pre-war owner of the painting.
According to the gallery, in 1945 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”. In 1963 the Cranach was bought in good faith by the gallery, without knowing anything of its chequered past.
In March 1999, Cupid Complaining to Venus, around 1530, was published in The Art Newspaper in a National Gallery list of 120 paintings which had an unclear provenance for the Nazi period, 1933-45. Five years later, in December 2004, the gallery received an email from Patricia Hartwell’s son Jay, seeking further information about the Cranach. In July last year Jay Hartwell visited London, to see the picture and meet with curator Susan Foister.
The story then began to emerge. Mrs Hartwell, who was born in Texas in 1916, had become a newspaper and radio reporter in the 1930s. In the early 1940s, she worked for the Office of War Information and later became a war correspondent for Collier’s Weekly and Women’s Home Companion. She is believed to have been present at the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, north of Munich, on 29 April 1945.
According to her sons, it was in Germany that Mrs Hartwell acquired the Cranach. She is said to have been given the opportunity to choose a painting in an art warehouse controlled by American forces. Last month Jay Hartwell told The Art Newspaper that he was unable to add any further details.
In 1945, the main depot for displaced art was the Collecting Point, run by American forces and housed in former Nazi offices in Munich. However, the National Gallery’s search of the Collecting Point records has failed to yield any reference to Cupid Complaining to Venus.
It is possible that the Cranach was taken from a local art store established by American forces, such as Schloss Neuschwanstein, Mad King Ludwig’s castle in the Bavarian Alps.
Another possibility is that the painting came from Unterstein, near Hitler’s holiday home at Berchtesgaden, where Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s art collection was brought. A press conference was held there in mid May 1945 to publicise the find (Mrs Hartwell is believed to have been at Dachau, 140 kilometres away, two weeks earlier, and could have attended). Göring was known for his love of Cranach, whom the Nazis regarded as a hero of German art. Mrs Hartwell is also believed to have visited one of Göring’s residences, acquiring one of the Reichsmarschall’s sashes, which she later turned into a hat and handbag.
After the war Mrs Hartwell returned to America, working in Unicef’s information department in New York. In 1961 she and her second husband Dickson approached the Metropolitan Museum of Art, offering to sell their Cranach, but it was not acquired. Cupid Complaining to Venus then passed to New York dealer E & A Silberman. In 1963 it was bought by the National Gallery in London, for £34,000 (it is now worth millions of pounds). Silberman told the gallery (incorrectly) that the painting had been sold to them by family descendants of the buyer at a 1909 auction.
Mrs Hartwell moved to Arizona to run a weekly newspaper in Scottsdale and she also helped establish the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. In 1971 she went to Oahu, in Hawaii, where she edited the newsletter of the Arts Council of Hawaii. She died there in 1998. This was just at the time when attitudes towards Nazi spoliation were changing, and there was a growing awareness of the importance of righting wartime wrongs.
So who was the pre-war owner of Cupid Complaining to Venus? The only certain fact is that it once belonged to Frankfurt collector Emil Goldschmidt, who apparently sold it through Berlin auctioneer Rudolph Lepke on 27 April 1909 (lot 48). The buyer has not been traced.
There seems little reason to doubt Hartwell family tradition about how the Cranach had been acquired. Had it belonged to a museum before the war, it would have been claimed, so it must have been owned by a private collector, most likely a Jew. The fact that the painting has not been claimed may well mean that the entire family was killed. Cupid Complaining to Venus was presumably seized from the owner by the Nazis and later recovered by American forces.