Museum Wiesbaden, as an institution of the State of Hesse, recently restored ownership of the painting Die Labung [Refreshment] (1879/80) by Hans von Marées (1837–1887) to the rightful heirs of its original owner the industrialist and art collector Max Silberberg. The painting was later repurchased by Museum Wiesbaden for its collections.
In the course of provenance research on the works in our own collections, we discovered that one of the paintings in our collection acquired by donation in 1980 was originally the property of a Jewish tradesman by the name of Max Silberberg. The painting was placed on auction by Paul Graupe in 1935 in Berlin.
Together with the Hesse Ministry of Arts and Science, Museum Wiesbaden concluded that the sale of the painting in 1935 resulted from Jewish persecution by the National Socialists. In keeping with the Washington Principles of 1998 and the Berlin Declaration of 1999, the painting was then restored to Silberberg’s rightful heirs. After restitution, Silberberg’s heirs agreed to sell the painting to Museum Wiesbaden and restore it to our collections.
The painting Refreshment by Hans von Marées once belonged to the Jewish tradesman Max Silberberg, who lived in Breslau with his family and was head of a successful business that supplied the steel industry with magnesite products. Silberberg was an active member of Breslau’s cultural life and maintained a significant private collection of art works focused on German and French art of the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Max Liebermann and Max Beckmann and, of course, Hans von Marées.
After seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933, Silberberg lost all of his public offices. In 1935, he was forced to sell his home and to part with the majority of his over 200-piece collection of art. The works in his collection were consigned to the Graupe auction house in Berlin, where they were gradually auctioned off – among them, the painting Refreshment by Hans von Marées on 23 March 1935. In October 1941, Max Silberberg and his wife Johanna were sent to a collection point at Kloster Grüssau, where they remained until May 1942 when they were deported to the concentration camp in Theresienstadt. They were later murdered at Auschwitz. The painting Refreshment was eventually purchased by Rose and Friedrich Klein, who donated it to Museum Wiesbaden in 1980.
From now on, all information about the provenance of Hans von Marées’ painting – its origins from the Max Silberberg collection, its donation by the Klein family, the restitution and repurchase from Silberberg’s heirs – will be referenced in Museum Wiesbaden.
On 7 November 2014, Boris Rhein, Minister of Arts and Sciences, ceremoniously turned the painting, which had been hung to show only the backside, around, a symbolic act announcing that adequate funds had been collected to enable the museum’s official repurchase of the painting for its collections. The purchase was enabled by the support of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States, the Friends of Museum Wiesbaden, the Cultural Foundation of Hesse and the citizens of Wiesbaden through their donations in the scope of our “Turn it Around, Wiesbaden!” campaign.
Campaign sponsor, minister of arts and science Boris Rhein, spoke on the occasion, saying, “The campaign draws attention to the injustices of the National Socialist era. I wanted to serve as sponsor because I feel it is our responsibility to right these wrongs. It is the only way we can make clear that we will not forget all that took place under National Socialist rule. It is our goal to actively confront the injustices of that era, for example, by conducting provenance research on the collections of our state museums.”
Dr. Alexander Klar, Director of Museum Wiesbaden, was pleased that the campaign’s unique character received attention far beyond the boundaries of the city, remarking, “The initiative even made it into the international media spotlight. That’s a unique opportunity for our project, as well as a serious responsibility.”