Home Magazine The Bellotto belonged to the Nazis

In the last few years, issues related to the restitution of the works confiscated during the Nazis have become increasingly relevant, and many initiatives are still ongoing. Last year, we discussed the Picasso work that the National Gallery had to return to the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdi, and about the Gaston Lévy Collection's sale, now it's time for a work signed by Bernardo Bellotto.

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It will be showing in Sotheby's London, and will be auctioned during the evening sale entitled "Rembrandt to Richter". Belonging to Max Emden, the painting had been confiscated by the Nazi government in 1934 and was returned to his family only in 2019. Estimated at £3-4 million, the work was part of the Duke of Saxony-Anhalt's private collection. In 1925, the Belletto entered a Berlin antique market where Max Emden purchased it. Max Emden was a Jewish businessman of considerable taste and success, whose collection was a source of pride and envy throughout Europe in the 1930s. Resident in Hamburg, he was the founder of department stores, famous and unique at the time. He signed his future fortune when, in 1927, he acquired the two islands of Brissago, in the Lake Maggiore (Italy) Swiss sector. Here he redeveloped the villa by preserving the garden built by Baroness St Leger (the previous owner) and there he moved in 1933, acquiring the rights of citizenship, in order to escape the deportation. 



A huge part of his prestigious art collection was seized by the Nazis in 1934, and then in June 1938 the sale of Bellotto's two works was organized for the benefit of Karl Haberstock, with the aim of implementing the Adolf Hitler collection in the Linz Führermuseum. After the war, the painting entered into the German federal government collection: exhibited in the presidential residence, it was considered part of the country's history. But in 2005, Horst Köhler learned the true story and he removed the paintings from the rooms. The history of the painting dates back to the spring of 1747 when the young Bernardo decided to leave Venice by following the example of his uncle Antonio Canal called il Canaletto. The golden age of landscape and landscaping was in decline. But when Bellotto arrived in Dresden thanks to an invitation of Augustus III (1696–1763), his future patron and great admirer. Augustus III commissioned him some views of the city of Dresden, Pirna and the Königstein Fortress, with a high annual salary and a privileged position in the courtyard. So Bellotto has decided to remain there for 11 years, and continue to work in Vienna, Munich and Warsaw, where he died.

The fourteen Dresden's views with their exceptional size, topographical precision and clear perspectives are masterpieces and the highest expression of Baroque architecture. The work in auction, View of the Zwinger Moat, Dresden, is an exceptional version of reduced size carried out around 1758: the inclusion of the court laundry, erected in 1752, confirms the posterior dating. Taken from the greenhouses of the Royal Orangery, the point of view is very particular since it gives great importance to the banks of the moat on which the Zwinger dominates. This is a building built in sumptuous Baroque style for ceremonies and shows, of which the large portal topped is recognizable from the bulb-shaped dome with the Polish crown, in the background the old city.

Every single detail is measured, considered, masterfully defined in its essential relationship with nature. The soul of the artist resides in every brushstroke, recounting his subtle sensitivity, by making the emotion of the contemplation, and the work is therefore suggestive and unforgettable.

Cover image: PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION FORMED BY MAX EMDEN (1874–1940) BERNARDO BELLOTTO | DRESDEN, A VIEW OF THE MOAT OF THE ZWINGER. Estimate: 3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP. Courtesy Sotheby's. 

Written by Elisabetta Rastelli

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