Decades Later, A Resolution Over Lost Art

AMSTERDAM — The work held pride of place in their own family room, the highlight of their art collection that was little but treasured.

One year after, Germany annexed the Grafs, as well as Austria as well as their dual 6-year old daughters, Eva and Erika, needed to flee the state. By the time they settled in Forest Hills, Queens, it was 1942, and the Nazis had looted each of their properties.

The prized painting became the focus of a 70-year recovery attempt by its own heirs and the Graf family — and one that’s now finishing on an ambivalent note. The painting’s worth has been estimated by the auction house at $650,000 to $905, 000.

This circuitous and debilitating history reveals looted artworks which have been for decades in private control are coming to market after settlement agreements in a sense that attempts to address their tainted past, with the rightful owners. These arrangements might not result in the return of the paintings to the heirs, but the compromise does supply some damages to the heirs and at least a kind of resolution, and brings the artworks out of concealment.

The heirs of the Grafs were unable to recoup the painting, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” (1739-40), as the deceased owner as well as the trust declined to return the work. The parties reached an arrangement that calls for sharing the profits of the Sotheby’s deal. No one would reveal details of the deal.

Stephen Tauber, a son in law of the Grafs, said in a telephone interview the resolution was “bittersweet.” Erika, his wife, perished at 79 in 2012; Eva, her sister, lives in a retirement community in Canton, Mass.

Our favorite solution would have been to get the painting back for my parents in law throughout the course of their life, or failing that, to their heirs,” he said. We brokered. It’s okay, although it’s not really satisfying. It was the greatest that we could reach. Ideally, it’d have been returned to our family in total. That wasn’t the potential, so we settled for what we could get.

A representative of the trust didn’t react to a request for an opinion.

After the Grafs needed to leave it behind like many paintings looted during the Second World War, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” went through several hands.

Mr. Speelman sold it a year after to the now-dead owner.

The Graf family was seeking for the painting since 1946 when a claim filed for the work in Austria. In 1998, both daughters, helped by the Art Loss Register, a database of stolen and lost artwork that also supplies search services, posted an ad on Art.com seeking advice.

Charles Beddington, at Christie’s an old masters painting merchant who’d worked as a specialist, recognized the art, which he’d seen in the residence of the owner some 15 years previously.

“But then I believed I’d better inquire Christie’s if it was O.K. to disclose the customer’s name, and they said no.”

The owner expired in 2013, Mr. Tauber said, and the painting came into the control of a trust. In 2015, the trust contacted Christopher Marinello. When discussions with the Graf heirs started, that is.

The painting isn’t widely regarded as an important work. An owner of the Richard Green Gallery in London, Jonathan Green, which specializes in old master paintings, said that Sotheby’s cost approximation for the July auction looks reasonable.

It ’s not the greatest Marieschi I but it’s a reasonable one he said. “The cost is appropriate, presuming it’s in good condition.” He put Marieschi “fourth in the pecking order of 18th-century Venetian view paintings,” after Guardi, Canaletto, and Bellotto.

The estate, as well as the Graf family, reached the restitution deal in December.

“Eventually after decades of the hearing relating to this painting, I was getting to see it with my very own eyes,” Andrew Tauber said. “Understanding that my grandparents, with whom I was quite close, adored this work so much, it was quite a mental encounter.”

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