Berlin to return 1913 Kirchner painting

1945 27 July 2006
Lam Thuy Vo

BERLIN (AP) - A 1913 painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner depicting a lively Berlin street scene will be returned to heirs of the Jewish family that was forced to hand it over to the Nazis before World War II, the state government said Thursday.

Kirchner's oil painting, "Berliner Strassenszene," with an estimated value of over $12.59 million, has hung in the Bruecke Museum in the German capital since 1980. It will remain in the museum until Sunday and will then be returned to heirs of the family that originally owned the work, Berlin's state ministry for culture said in a statement.

No details of the restitution, including the identity of the original owners, or the heirs, were released.

Bernd Schultz, a modern art expert for the Berlin-based auction house Villa Grisebach, said he considers the painting to be one of the most outstanding in Kirchner's series of street scenes.

Kirchner, born in 1880 in the western German town of Aschaffenburg, was one of the most creative artists of "Die Bruecke," or The Bridge," a group of German painters that he co-founded in 1905. After the Nazis seized power, they confiscated 639 of Kirchner's paintings from museums and, in despair, he took his own life in 1938.

The painting "Berliner Strassenszene," which depicts a woman in red within an urban crowd dressed in blue, is characterized by its vibrant colors. In 1933, the painting was taken to Switzerland by its Jewish owners as part of an art collection, where it was exhibited in Basel and Zurich, the ministry said.

Three years later, the Jewish owners sent seven paintings, including Kirchner's "Berliner Strassenszene," to the Art Association of Cologne. An art collector then bought the paintings, but it is uncertain whether the Jewish owners ever saw any of this money, the ministry said.

After World War II, the new owners donated the painting to the Staedel museum in Frankfurt. It was then acquired by the state of Berlin in 1980, "in good faith," the ministry said.
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