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Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein Reacquires a Restituted Matteus Stom Work for the Gemäldegalerie

03.09.2020
Gemäldegalerie

Thanks to the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein and the support of the Friede Springer Stiftung, the painting Sarah führt Abraham Hagar zu (Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham) by Matteus Stom has returned to the Gemäldegalerie. The large-format work by the Dutch painter had been restituted to the heirs of Berlin art dealer Heinrich Ueberall in 2019, from whom it has now been reacquired. Now, newly exhibited in Room IX, it complements two further works by Stom, and completes the Gemäldegalerie’s Caravaggisti collection.

“In the context of a dark past, the restitution of any work of art is an emotional process,” says Michael Eissenhauer, Director-General of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. “I am very grateful that in the case of Heinrich Ueberall we managed to reach a fair resolution in returning the works to his heirs. I am also grateful to the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein, whose quick and flexible action – supported by the Friede Springer Stiftung – made it possible to secure this magnificent work for the Gemäldegalerie.”

Tessen von Heydebreck, Chairman of the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein, noted: “With this purchase, our association, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2022, has broken new ground. Today, the issues of provenance and restitution are key themes in German art museums. With this reacquisition of a restituted work, our association has demonstrated its flexibility in responding to contemporary challenges. We have been able to secure an important work in the collection, and thereby contribute to the historical holdings of the Gemäldegalerie.”

The Ueberall Family

Heinrich Ueberall, born 1869 in Yaroslavl (Russia), moved to Berlin in 1899 with his wife Rebekka and established a flourishing art and antiques business. Due to increasing persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime, Ueberall was forced to give up his art dealership between 1936 and 1938, before which time he had already transferred several works of art to the Dresdner Bank as loan collateral. Ueberall successfully applied for a British entry visa for himself and his wife in 1939, but the outbreak of the war made it impossible to leave the country. Heinrich Ueberall was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in September 1939, where he died later that month. His widow took her own life in 1942, after receiving a deportation notice. At the time of her death, Rebekka Ueberall was living in a so-called “Jewish flat” without a penny to her name. Upon her death, the bailiff listed no assets at all. The two Ueberall children were able to flee to the United States and the United Kingdom respectively.

In 1935, the Dresdner Bank sold a bundle of more than 4,000 works of art to the Prussian state. Shortly thereafter, they were handed over to the Staatliche Museen – including 10 works from the Ueberall collection, some of which were soon sold on, while others were lost or misplaced during the war.

Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham by Matteus Stom

The painting Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham depicts a scene from the Old Testament: 86-year-old Abraham, progenitor of Israel, and his wife, Sarah, are childless. In order to provide offspring, Sarah decides to bring the young Egyptian maid, Hagar, to her husband. Stom’s painting shows the moment of their encounter in Abraham’s sleeping chamber, bathed in the warm light of an oil lamp. The realistic expressions of the subjects and their convincing, restrained gestures lend the scene its exceptional tension and drama.

Caravaggism at the Gemäldegalerie

At the Gemäldegalerie, the development and dissemination of Caravaggism, that striking movement in Baroque painting, can be traced almost without interruption. Matteus Stom, one of the most important representatives of the Dutch Caravaggisti, is well represented in the Gemäldegalerie by a coherent set of large-format biblical paintings, including the work Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham. With the painting’s return, this important group of works has now been restored and secured for future generations.