Four paintings restituted to Egyptian Jew’s heirs

According to Today-in-24,   the French Government reported this week  that four works that were looted by the Nazis during the German occupation of France in the Second World War have been restored to the heirs of the Egyptian-Jewish businessman Moïse Levi de Benzion.  Benzion was born in Alexandria in 1873 and was the founder of the Benzion department stores in Cairo. He had an impressive collection of Chinese and Oriental art, textiles, carpets, books and Egyptian antiquities. The restitution of the paintings to Benzion’s heirs is a blow for Magda Haroun, head of the Cairo Jewish ‘community’, who had demanded that the works go back to Egypt.

Frontage of the Benzion department store in Aswan

The four works, three kept in Paris in the Louvre Museum and another in the Orsay Museum, are small in size and date from the 19th century.
The authorship of these paintings corresponds to Georges Michel, Paul Delaroche, Auguste Hesse and Jules-Jacques Veyrassat. This batch of four pieces belongs to the state program National Museums of Recovery (MNR), whose objective is to return to their rightful owners the thousands of works that the Nazis stole.

According to the French Ministry of Culture, investigations carried out on the origin of these four paintings determined that they belonged to Levi de Benzion (1873, Alexandria, Egypt-1943, Roche-Canillac, France).The collector and businessman bought these works in 1920 and they were stolen from his palace de la Folie in Draveil (Paris region) by the Nazi art looting organization l’Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg.
There were about 60,000 works and objects recovered from Germany that returned to France since the end of the war, in 1945, of which about 45,000 were returned to their owners before 1950.

Among those that were not claimed, a large part was sold and another, about 2,000, was left to the care of French museums due to its artistic interest.
Since 2016, the MNR program has helped restore 54 works to their legitimate heirs.

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During the Second World War, according to Wikipedia, Lévi de Benzion’s collections in Paris and the chateau La Folie in Draviel were extensively looted by units of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Nazi unit charged with following behind invading German troops and identifying and seizing works of art from occupied countries. Records of the ERR indicate that 989 items were seized from the Lévi de Benzion collection alone. Lévi de Benzion was arrested by the Nazis in France and died in September 1943. His collection was sold at auction at Villa Benzion, 6 Rue El Amir Omar, Zamalek, Cairo, in March 1947 in a sale of over 900 lots. (Here is the auction Catalogue. ) Several other department-store owners lived in Zamalek, but like many other large private houses in the area, Villa Benzion no longer exists.

Gustave Courbet’s ‘Entrée d’une Gave’. looted from Benzion by the Nazis.

Typical of the handling of the looted paintings was Gustave Courbet‘s Entree d’un Gave (1876). Lévi de Benzion acquired the painting in 1919; the ERR seized it in 1940 and moved it to the Neuschwanstein castle. In 1941 it was acquired by Walter Hofer for the Hermann Göring collection.[8] Göring, however, was not interested in modern art, preferring Old Master paintings instead, and the work was among a number of modern paintings subsequently exchanged for older works selected from Theodor Fischer‘s Galerie Fischer in Lucerne.[9][10] Fischer sold the painting to Willi Raeber of Basel, who in turn sold it to Galerie Rosengart of Lucerne, who sold it to Arthur Stoll. After the war, the painting was claimed by Paule-Juliette Levi de Benzion of Cairo and restituted to her in 1948. After changing hands several more times, it was sold to the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama in 1999.

Among the other works seized and later returned were paintings by Eugène BoudinJean-Baptiste-Camille CorotCharles CottetCharles DaubignyClaude MonetAlfred Sisley, and Vincent van Gogh.




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