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These famous artworks from Musée d’Orsay are finally returned to the heirs

These famous artworks from Musée d’Orsay are finally returned to the heirs

Following a ten-year legal battle, a French court in February ruled that a collection of Impressionist paintings, which had been illegally sold in Germany during WWII after the death of their original owner, the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, be returned to his relatives by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. As per usual in restitution settlements, where the proceeds from public auctions of artworks are divided among legal heirs who share ownership, the four artworks will be put up for sale at an auction in France next month.

Vollard was not only an art dealer, but also an author who wrote biographies of prominent artists such as Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He collaborated with some of the most influential art collectors of his era, such as the Havemeyer family (whose collection is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) and Albert Barnes (whose collection is housed in the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia). Due to his connections with artists, Vollard was able to amass an important collection of his own and achieved great success as a dealer.

Sotheby's auction will include artworks by Renoir (Marine Guernesey and Judgement of Paris), Paul Cézanne (Undergrowth), and Gauguin (Still Life with a Mandolin). The most valuable artwork in the collection is the Gauguin, with an estimated selling price ranging between $10 million and $15 million. The other three pieces are valued between $250,000 and $1.5 million.

Following the sudden death of Ambroise Vollard in 1939 at the age of 73, his estate became embroiled in controversy when it was discovered that some of the 6,000 items in his collection had been improperly distributed by his relatives, though the exact sales history of the four works in question remains unclear. Vollard's brother, Lucien Vollard, who was named as the estate's executor, collaborated with Étienne Bignou and Martin Fabiani to sell works from the collection. Bignou and Fabiani later faced allegations of financial fraud and were linked to the sale of works to German museums, dealers, and Nazi officers.

In 2013, Vollard's heirs filed a lawsuit against the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, contending that Lucien Vollard's business connections with Nazi officials rendered the sale of these artworks invalid, even if the transactions were conducted under duress. The heirs are still pursuing the return of three paintings that belonged to Vollard and are currently housed in the Musée d'Orsay.

1863 reads
May 26, 2023
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