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Research into the Provenance of Works of Art from the 1935 Dresdner Bank Collection

In August 1935, Dresdner Bank and the Prussian state signed a contract for the sale of around 4,400 works of art. The bank had accumulated these works over many years through credit transactions, holding them at the Berlin headquarters and in various branches throughout Germany. Usually debtors had put them down as collateral. These works were sold for 7.5 million Reichsmarks, making the transaction one of the largest art deals of the Nazi era.

From the very beginning, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin was involved in the Dresdner Bank’s protracted negotiations with the relevant ministries, as the museums, which were run by the government, were to be responsible for the safekeeping of this huge collection of works. What’s more, since this state transfer covered the entire spectrum of museum art forms – including sculptures, paintings, graphic art, furniture, oriental carpets and Persian ceramics – the government required the expert knowledge of museum professionals from various fields.

The Zentralarchiv is investigating whether these works of fine and decorative art might have been Nazi-looted cultural property. These investigations are being carried out because several Jewish businesspeople were among the debtors whose assets were assigned as collateral and subsequently sold by the Dresdner Bank in 1935. Since the nature of the individual credit transactions varied so greatly, each one has to be looked at separately. The key question is why individual recipients were unable to repay the loans, causing the works of art to be transferred to the bank.

Today, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin still holds works from 23 different credit transactions, spread across eight of their collections. As some particularly extensive groups of works have already been researched in the past, this project concentrates on around 200 artworks and objects which previously belonged to 19 different individuals or shareholders. Lynn Rother’s 2017 doctoral thesis, which was published under the title Kunst durch Kredit and supported by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, serves as an important foundation for this project. Her book provides the historical basis for understanding this large transaction, which brought together the various works of art from the different bank activities.

Institution: Zentralarchiv, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project coordinatoion and research: Dr Hanna Strzoda
Duration: since 2018