Restitution of two works from the Kupferstichkabinett


Today the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the body that oversees the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, made restitution of two drawings from the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection. The origins of the two works were checked as part of a systematic research project tracing the provenance of works held by the Staatliche Museen. They were discovered to have belonged to the collection of a Dr. Schmidl of Vienna. Further research revealed that Dr. Schmidl had been dispossessed of the artworks as a result of Nazi persecution. Acting on this information, the SPK established contact with her heirs.

The works in question are:

-  a pencil drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, "Friedrich Olivier im Alter von 25 Jahren”, ["Friedrich Olivier At The Age of 25”] 1816

-  a drawing (pencil, ink, heightened with white) by Friedrich or Ferdinand Olivier, "Zwei welke Blätter (1817. Den 10ten Januar)”, ["Two Withered Leaves (1817. The 10th of January)”] 1817

The two works were acquired at auction, in April 1939 and May 1941 respectively, at the auction house of the firm of C.G. Boerner in Leipzig, and were recorded in the inventory of drawings of the Sammlung der Zeichnungen at the Nationalgalerie. (They were transferred to the Kupferstichkabinett in 1990, as part of the reorganisation which followed German reunification.)

The brothers Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier, born in Dessau, were members of the Nazarene group of painters, and were among the most important artists of the German Romantic movement. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld made their acquaintance in 1814 in Vienna, and the three remained close friends, continually exchanging artistic ideas, for over twenty years.

The two drawings belonged to the collection of Friedrich von Olivier’s great-granddaughter, who also inherited many other works by the Olivier brothers. Dr. Marianne Schmidl was born in 1890 in Berchtesgarden and grew up in Vienna. After becoming the first woman to graduate with a doctorate in Ethnology from the University of Vienna, she worked initially in various ethnology museums, including the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin. In 1921 she became a librarian at the Austrian Nationalbibliothek, where she worked until 1938. On 1st October of that year, she was forced into early retirement because her father was of Jewish origin. Deprived of almost all means of financial support by this and other forms of persecution, and by the special levies imposed on Jews by the Nazi regime, she was obliged to sell the artworks which had been in her family for generations. In April 1942 she was deported to the ghetto of Izbica, in the Krasnystaw district of the province of Lublin, Poland. The circumstances and the exact date of her death are unknown, but the Izbica ghetto was used as a transit camp for the extermination camps at Bełzek and Sobibór. None of the approximately 4,000 Austrian Jews deported to Izbica survived.

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