More than a century after its last public display, a vibrant painting by Vincent van Gogh, once seized by the Nazis, is going to be auctioned off.
Van Gogh painted the scene in 1888 after retiring to the French countryside amid a period of ill health. During his stay in Arles, he fell in love with the pastoral way of life that surrounded him, and “Meules de wheat” is one of the many works on the theme of harvests that he created during this period.
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Despite the tranquil scene depicted, the painting has a troubled history. It initially belonged to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, then changed hands before being bought by Max Meirowsky, a Jewish industrialist, in 1913. Faced with anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, Meirowsky was forced to flee and he entrusted the painting to a German. art dealer in Paris, according to Christie’s.
The watercolor came into the possession of Miriam Caroline Alexandrine de Rothschild, who herself fled to Switzerland after the outbreak of World War II. During the occupation of France, the Nazis looted De Rothschild’s collection, taking, among other things, “Wheatstacks”.
In 1941, the painting was transferred to the Jeu de Paume, a museum used by the Nazis to store and display works of art deemed “degenerate” or otherwise confiscated. According to Christie’s, the “Stacks of Wheat” were then taken to Schloss Kogl Castle in Austria, where they entered an unnamed private collection.
As De Rothschild tried to recover his paintings lost after the fall of the Nazi regime, the Van Gogh eluded him. In 1978 it was acquired by the Wildenstein & Co. Gallery in New York City, where it was purchased by the late art collector Edward Lochridge Cox, a Texan oil mogul with a penchant for Impressionism. The watercolor is part of a larger Christie’s sale of his collection, which includes paintings by other famous artists, including Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet.
Van Gogh painted the scene in 1888 after retiring to the French countryside. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021
After Cox’s death, a property dispute arose between Cox’s estate and the heirs of Meirowsky and De Rothschild. Christie’s notes in its catalog that the parties have since reached a “settlement agreement,” but declined to comment further on the matter.
The painting was last seen in public in 1905, when it was exhibited as part of a larger Van Gogh retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.