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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

German Historical Museum restitutes paintings by Hermann Knackfuß to the heirs of Rudolf Mosse

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The German Historical Museum has restituted Hermann Knackfuß’s painting “Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau (1676-1747) at the Battle of Turin on 7 September 1706” from 1884 to the community of heirs of the Jewish publisher and philanthropist Rudolf Mosse. This subsequently enabled the museum to acquire the work for its collection.

Image above: Hermann Knackfuß: Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau (1676-1747) at the Battle of Turin on 7 September 1706, 1884 © Deutsches Historisches Museum

Prof. Dr Raphael Gross, President of the Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum: “Thanks to intensive research by our provenance researchers, the DHM has been able to reconstruct the history of the painting’s origin in detail over the past few years and has now returned the work to its rightful owners in accordance with the Washington Principles. I am particularly pleased that the DHM has been able to add another building block to the reconstruction of the Mosse Collection with its provenance research. The DHM is greatly indebted to the descendants of Rudolf Mosse for being able to acquire the painting for its collection. It will make an important contribution to the history of the Zeughaus in the new permanent exhibition we are currently working on.”

Prof. Dr. Jan Hegemann, Raue Partnerschaft von Rechtsanwälten und Rechtsanwältinnen mbB, on behalf of the community of heirs of Rudolf Mosse: “The heirs of Rudolf Mosse would like to thank the DHM for the constructive cooperation in handling this restitution case. They are pleased that the work will remain permanently accessible to the public at the DHM.”

Following a tip-off from the Mosse Art Research Initiative, the German Historical Museum had been researching since 2019 whether the painting in its holdings could be a work from the “Rudolf Mosse Collection”.

The history of the painting’s creation is linked to the Zeughaus, the current location of the German Historical Museum: After the completion of the “Hall of Fame of the Brandenburg-Prussian Army” in the Zeughaus, several murals were commissioned at the end of the 19th century – including a battle painting by the history painter Hermann Knackfuß depicting the Battle of Turin in 1706. During the Second World War, the work was destroyed by bombing. Today, the design for the mural still exists, as well as other versions, including the smaller-format replica on canvas from the DHM collection, which was also painted in 1884.

In the art collection of the Jewish publisher and patron Rudolf Mosse (1848-1920), a battle painting by Hermann Knackfuß can be traced from 1908 onwards with changing titles, but without dimensions or illustrations. In the 1915 collection catalogue and all later catalogues of the “Rudolf Mosse Collection”, the painting is given the correct title “Battle of Turin”.

With the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor, the persecution of the Mosse Group had begun immediately: Bans on publication were followed by refusals of credit and finally the forced transfer. The successive steps towards “Aryanisation” culminated in the expropriation of the group and the private assets of the Lachmann-Mosse family at the end of 1933. Under the guise of establishing the Rudolf Mosse Stiftung GmbH, the family was also robbed of its art collections. The art objects were offered by the Berlin auction house Union on 6 and 7 June 1934, including: “Lot 274. Hermann Knackfuß, born 1848 in Wissen. Leopold von Dessau in the Battle of Turin. Lw. Gr. 100 x 134 cm. G.R”.

According to the inventory book of the Museum of German History (MfDG) of the GDR, the painting was purchased in Dessau in 1978. With reunification in 1990, the German Historical Museum, founded three years earlier in West Berlin, took over the armoury and the collections of the MfDG, including the painting by Hermann Knackfuß. The results of the DHM’s provenance research lead to the conclusion that the object from the DHM’s collection must be identical to the work from the “Union” auction in June 1934 and thus must be classified as a Nazi persecution-related seizure. The DHM’s Board of Trustees had followed the museum’s recommendation to restitute the painting in the spirit of a fair and equitable solution as developed in the Washington Principles.


Deutsches Historisches Museum
Unter den Linden 2
10117 Berlin

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