Opening Max Stern’s box: Finding out the real raiders of lost art

Mercedes La Rosa - The Link (Concordia University)

MONTREAL (CUP)– Before Max Stern fled Germany for being Jewish in 1937, over 250 works of art belonging to his father’s art gallery in Dusseldorf, the Julius Stern Art Gallery, were confiscated or sold by force by the Gestapo. When Stern immigrated to Montreal after leaving Britain for being German, he re-established himself as a force in the art world.

In the ’40s Stern, having started as its intern, bought the renowned Dominion Gallery. He also spear-headed the initiative to open up Canadian art to the Canadian art market. He gave a significant amount of art work by artists like Paul-Emile Borduas, Emily Carr, John Lymann and Jean-Paul Riopelle to the Musee d’art contemporain since its inception in 1964. While Stern resolved to retrieve works confiscated from him, he eventually put this project to rest as his new life as an art dealer and collector in Canada started taking precedence. Out of the hundreds of pieces confiscated from Stern in Germany, only six were returned to him before he died in 1987. Upon his death, Stern bequeathed Concordia University, McGill University and Hebrew University as his estate’s main beneficiaries.

The next few months will see Montreal doing is part to shaking the established art world as serious attempts are being made to retrieve art work from the estate of Max Stern. Headed by Clarence Epstein, president of Concordia University’s Special Project’s Department, the estate of Max Stern has found evidence proving 40 exact matches of art works belonging to Stern are being housed and sold primarily in 15 art auction houses in Germany.

On Friday, March 24, during the Max and Iris Stern International Symposium at Montreal’s Mus?e d’art contemporain, Epstein declared an official notice to these auction houses to facilitate in gathering information for Stern’s works. The Art Loss Register in London, the New York State Holocaust Claims Processing Office and the National Gallery of Canada Archives are collaborating with the Stern estate to reclaim works in question.

Years of research has found a recurring pattern where art auction houses, a majority of which are German, were consistently selling works once under Stern’s name. Art auction house Lempertz, located in Cologne, was known to have advertised the 1937 forced sale of a painting owned by Stern. At the moment, the estate will start legal proceedings for a Stern painting located in Rhode Island.

Hoping to reclaim a significant amount of Stern’s works, Epstein wants to make it known that those in possession of artworks being contested by the estate have a moral obligation to return the works to the estate and hopes that they respond accordingly.

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