Five Works from the Gemäldegelerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie restituted


The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) has arranged for five works from the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to be restituted to the heirs of the art dealer Heinrich Ueberall.

The works became part of the museums’ collection through a purchase facilitated by the Dresdner Bank in 1935. Heinrich Ueberall died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1939.

Restituted Works

Three of the works to be restituted come from the Gemäldegalerie: Matthias Stom’s Biblical Scene/Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham (1642–1650), Bartholemew van der Helst’s Portrait of a Gentleman/Portrait of a Man (copy, 17th C.), and Frans Ykens’ Still Life (17th C.). Two bronzes by unknown artists from the Alte Nationalgalerie’s collection will also be returned. Both bronzes are miniature replicas of well-known works: Allegrain’s Venus after the Bath (ca. 1845/1864) and Canova’s Venus (ca. 1845/1864).

Heinrich Ueberall and his Family

Heinrich Ueberall (20.12.1869, Jarosław, Galicia [Poland] – 27.9.1939, Sachsenhausen concentration camp) moved to Berlin in 1899 with his wife Rebekka and their two children. He managed a flourishing art and antiques dealership, whose customers included the German Foreign Office until 1933. Due to increasing persecution, Ueberall had to relinquish his business some time between 1936 and 1938. In 1939, he successfully obtained a British entry visa for himself and his wife, but the outbreak of the war in 1939 made any such journey impossible. He was transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in September 1939, where he died that same month. In 1942, after receiving a deportation notice, his widow took her own life. At the time of her death, Rebekka Ueberall lived completely destitute in a so-called “Jewish apartment”. The court bailiff assessed that she had no financial assets.

The Ueberalls’ daughter had already fled Berlin in 1938 and later emigrated to the USA in 1940, while their son fled to London in 1939. Two of Heinrich and Rebekka Ueberall’s grandchildren survived the Holocaust, one of whom is still alive and now able to witness the restitution of their artworks. On behalf of the Ueberalls’ heirs, Dr Strelow expressly thanked the SPK for the restitution: “With the return of these works, the foundation shows that they are responsibly addressing their past and critically recognise their own role as beneficiaries of the persecution of the Jews. Through the restitution of these works, the SPK also affords one of the few remaining living survivors of the Holocaust a small measure of justice.”

Provenance Research 

The works formed part of a mixed lot of over 4,000 artworks that the state of Prussia acquired from the Dresdner Bank in 1935 and transferred to the Staatliche Museen shortly thereafter. Since the beginning of 2018, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz has been conducting a provenance research project on this collection, which is drawn from a wide range of prior owners. While this work was being carried out, Dr Irena Strelow, who represents Ueberall’s heirs, made a restitution request to the foundation. The 1935 transaction led to the accession of 10 works or groups of works into the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, though a number of these were quickly sold on, went missing as a result of the war, or have simply been lost.

The works investigated in the context of the Dresdner Bank project were largely in the bank’s possession as loan collateral, although the nature of the individual credit transactions varied greatly. The SPK had long suspected that this collection could contain works that were confiscated as a result of persecution by the Nazis, and began to successively examine the holdings related to particular transactions. In November 2017, a dissertation initiated and supported by the SPK laid out the historical and economic context of the banking transactions, and now serves as a foundation for the investigation of individual cases through the SPK-led project. It has also led to the foundation receiving a number of restitution requests.

Researching the origins of artefacts in our collections is also one of the key responsibilities of all curatorial and research staff at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.