Israel Museum Reacquires Max Liebermann’s Garden in Wannsee for its Collection

The Israel Museum announced today the restitution of the Impressionist masterpiece Garden in Wannsee, 1923, by German-Jewish artist Max Liebermann (1847-1935), to the designated heir of the original owner, Max Cassirer.

Max Lieberman, Garden in Wamsee, 1923, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Max Lieberman, Garden in Wamsee, 1923, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem


The painting, the finest example of the artist’s Impressionist work in the Israel Museum’s collection, was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941, together with Cassirer’s other assets. After the war the painting was given to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), and, in 1950, JRSO gave the painting in custody to the Bezalel National Museum, the precursor to the Israel Museum. In 2012, the work was identified by the designated heir with the help of historian Marina Blumberg and the law office of von Trott zu Solz Lammek in Berlin, following the discovery of a photograph showing the painting as it was displayed in Cassirer’s home in Berlin prior to its looting. The Israel Museum promptly restituted the work and worked together with the designated heir to re-acquire the painting for its collection.

Max Cassirer was a wealthy businessman from Berlin and scion of a renowned family of art dealers. Garden in Wannsee, which depicted the garden of the artist’s summer residence, was displayed in the music room in his home. As a result of Nazi persecution, Cassirer was forced to sell the business “Dr. Cassirer & Co.” to a German Company in 1935. In 1939, he emigrated to Switzerland and later to England. Cassirer’s assets were confiscated by the Nazis in 1941. Some of his paintings were sold in an auction, whereas others, including Garden in Wannsee, were seized by the Command Force of Reich Leader Rosenberg, a Nazi looting agency. After the war, the painting was found and delivered to the Central Collecting Point in Munich, where it was handed over to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO).

Garden in Wannsee has been exhibited extensively at the Israel Museum and abroad since becoming part of the JRSO collection and was published online by the Museum as part of a catalogue of the approximately 1,200 JRSO works of art and Judaica in the custody of the Israel Museum. In 2008, the painting was featured in Orphaned Art, the Museum’s landmark exhibition exploring the fate of works of art looted during World War II that were subsequently brought to Israel. Garden in Wannsee is Liebermann’s most important landscape painting in the Museum’s collection, which also includes portraits and self-portraits by the artist, as well as smaller nature and genre scenes.

The restitution of Garden of Wannsee continues the Museum’s history of significant restitutions, including most recently the return of another Max Liebermann painting, The Return of Tobias (ca. 1934), to the artist’s own heirs in 2011, and the Paul Klee drawing Veil Dance (1920) to the estate of German art collector Harry Fuld Jr., in 2010. In 2008, three ancient Roman gold-glass medallions were restituted to the heirs to the Dzialynska Collection at Goluchow Castle in Poland. The Museum reacquired one medallion for its collection, and another was purchased and placed with the Museum on extended loan. Among other examples in recent years, in 2005, Edgar Degas’ charcoal drawing Four Nude Female Dancers Resting, ca. 1898, was restituted to the heirs of Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. And, in 2000, the Museum returned Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, 1897, to the heir of Holocaust victim Max Silberberg, who placed the painting on long-term loan to the Museum.

Beginning in 1948, works of art and Judaica that were identified as having been looted from Jews or Jewish communities but were heirless and unclaimed were given to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), which undertook a systematic program to distribute this cultural legacy among museums, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations in Israel and worldwide. Some of these objects were deposited for safekeeping at the Bezalel National Museum, precursor to the Israel Museum, which, following its establishment in 1965, became the custodian of some 250 paintings, 250 works on paper, and 700 objects of Judaica received through JRSO. Beginning as early as 1950, individuals have come forward to claim JRSO works. An online catalogue of all of the JRSO works in custody of the Israel Museum can be found in a special section of the Museum’s website (www.imj.org.il), titled World War II Provenance Research Online.

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