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Restitution of a Drawing from the Kupferstichkabinett

19.03.2019
Kupferstichkabinett

A few days ago, the Kupferstichkabinett returned a drawing by Carl Philipp Fohr, an artist of German Romanticism, to the heirs of its previous owner, Karl Mayer. The origins of the work had been brought to light by research carried out as part of the “Sammlung der Zeichnungen” provenance research project, which is funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. Karl Mayer emigrated in January of 1933, and lost his assets during the Nazi era. 

The work in question is "Bildnis eines jungen Mannes im deutschen Rock/Bildnis Sigismund Ruhl" (Portrait of a Young Man in German Dress/Portrait of Sigismund Ruhl, 1764, pen and black ink over lead pencil) by the Romantic artist Carl Philipp Fohr (born in Heidelberg in 1795 – died 1818 in Rome). Before his premature death, the artist was considered one of the most gifted of his era. After initial training under Georg Wilhelm Issel in Darmstadt, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. It was there that he became friends with Sigismund Ruhl, the subject of the restituted portrait, who taught him to paint in oils. He ended his studies in Munich prematurely and moved to Rome, where he briefly joined the milieu of the Nazarene movement.    

The collector’s stamp on the verso made it possible to definitively identify the sheet – which the Berlin Museums acquired in 1941 at the Leipzig auction house of C.G. Boerner – as having belonged to the collection of Karl Mayer. Karl Mayer (born in Mainz in 1894 – died 1976 in Buenos Aires) was a wholesaler of metal goods in Darmstadt. Because the mood in the city was particularly hostile towards Jews, he went into exile even before Hitler was named chancellor, heading first to Persia, then on to Argentina via Switzerland and the Canary Islands. In his absence, his business was almost immediately declared bankrupt and “Aryanised”. As part of the breakup of the business, authorities sold off Mayer’s art collection, which included books, prints, drawings and a collection of clocks and watches. Mayer’s spouse Emmi, herself a Catholic, remained in Germany with their two sons. Their older son was able to emigrate in 1941 to join his father. Due to a total emigration ban for Jews issued in 1941, the younger son was unable to follow, though both he and his mother survived the Nazi era. He is among the heirs to whom the work is now being returned.