A painting that was confiscated from a Jewish family in Berlin in 1934 by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis was located in New York and subsequently seized by the FBI.
"Winter," a painting by Gari Melchers that features two young people on skates with flushed faces against a snowy landscape, was part of an art collection that was once owned by the family of Rudolf Mosse. Mosse, a Jewish publisher and philanthropist, purchased "Winter" directly from the artist in 1900 at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition.
Mosse amassed a substantial collection of art before his death in 1920, with over 200 unique pieces. Following the death of his wife in 1924, the totality of his holdings, including the art collection and liberal newspaper Berliner Tageblatt, were left to his adopted daughter Felicia Lachmann-Mosse and her husband, Hans.
Berliner Tageblatt was known to be sharply critical of the Nazi Party as they rose to power in the 1920s and '30s, and when the Aryanization of the country began to target Jews working in the media and the economy, Hans and Felicia Lachmann-Mosse left Germany and surrendered the entirety of their holdings, including their entire art collection, to state administration.
The painting, at that point known as "Skaters," appeared on a 1933 list of inventory for the Rudolf Mosse art collection in an auction catalog prepared by Nazi collaborator Karl Haberstock of the Rudolf Lepke auction house. "Skaters" was sold by Lepke in 1934 to an unknown buyer and appeared a short time later at the MacBeth Art Gallery in New York City, where it was sold on consignment to Bartlett Arkell, a prominent American industrialist.
"Skaters," or "Winter," hung in the Bartlett Museum in Canahajorie, New York, until Sept. 10, 2019, when it was seized by the FBI as property illegally and forcibly obtained by the Nazis. The Mosse family, along with their children, are now deceased and never saw compensation for the total loss of their once-prized art collection.
In a complaint filed in the Northern District of New York, the painting is listed as an in rem defendant, a property under federal seizure without a designated owner.
The case of "Winter" echoes the long-fought battle by Jewish refugee Marie Altmann, who fled Austria to avoid Nazi persecution after the Anschluss in 1938. Altmann, who settled in Los Angeles, fought for years to recover paintings by Gustav Klimt that were owned by her family before being seized by the Nazis. The most famous painting of those she spent her life trying to get back was "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," or "The Woman in Gold," which was a painting of her aunt Adele, known to be a muse of Klimt in the early 1900s.
"The Woman in Gold" hung at the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna from the time the Nazis placed it there until 2006, when it was finally returned to Marie Altmann after years of litigation and intervention by the United States Supreme Court. She sold the painting that year for $135 million to Ronald Lauder, who placed in the New York Galerie Neue, where it can be seen today.
There have been multiple attempts to recover art, jewelry, monuments, and other heirlooms that were stolen by the Nazis leading up to and throughout the course of World War II. Many priceless works of art are thought to have been destroyed or lost forever, but instances such as the recovery of "Winter" inspire hope in preservationists and descendants of persecuted Jews.