Yale reaches agreement on stolen painting claim

Yale has reached a settlement with a Jewish man who said one of the paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery was stolen from his family during World War II.

Under the terms of the settlement, Washington, D.C. resident Eric Weinmann will get to keep the painting for a maximum of 10 years, then must return it to the gallery. The painting, “Le Grand Pont” by French realist Gustave Courbet, was loaned to the gallery in 1981 by Herbert Schaefer, a philanthropist and one-time Nazi party member.

The University also announced Tuesday that Schaefer has formally donated the painting to the gallery, settling any question of ownership.

“We are grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Schaefer for their generous gift to Yale and to Mr. and Mrs. Weinmann for their willingness to reach an amicable settlement,” said Jock Reynolds, the director of the art gallery.

In January, Weinmann presented to the University a formal claim that the Courbet originally belonged to his family. At the time, Weinmann sought the permanent return of the painting.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Courbet will remain in his possession for 10 years or the duration of his life, whichever is shorter. Weinmann is 88.

During the course of the loan, Yale may recall the painting for public exhibitions.

“I think the resolution here is really a very happy one for everyone involved,” University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said.

The painting was in the collection of Max Silberberg until 1935, when it was sold at an auction in Berlin, according to a written statement from the University. No record of the sale exists.

According to Weinmann’s claim, his mother bought the painting in 1935 and was forced to leave it behind when the family fled Germany.

Schaefer said he bought the painting in 1938 and that the purchase was legitimate. At the time he was working as a legal intern with a limited salary.

After the war, he waited until the ’60s to begin reclaiming his collection, which he said was scattered during the war. In 1981, he loaned 48 pieces to Yale.

But Weinmann’s claim threw a shadow over Schaefer’s collection, including the Courbet — a valuable piece from the artist’s non-political period.

While Yale did not contest Weinmann’s claim, it did initiate an investigation into the painting’s ownership. But the University said it found no conclusive evidence that the Courbet belonged to his family.

“There is no direct documentation,” Robinson said.

Robinson said the facts of the case have been obscured by history and the age of the people involved.

As part of the settlement, Weinmann withdrew his request for restitution, with the understanding that after the painting leaves his possession it will remain on public display.

The painting has been included in several special exhibitions at the gallery. It has been continuously available for public viewing since the ’40s.

Weinmann received the painting on Tuesday, and immediately hung it in his dining room.

–The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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