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Lenbachhaus restitutes silver sculpture by Georg Wrba from the former collection of Dr Max Meirowsky following proactive research

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On June 26. 2024 The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau Munich (Lenbachhaus Munich) restituted the Georg Wrba statue “Diana on a Doe”, returning it to the Geneva-based Bona Terra Foundation, which administers the inheritance of industrialist Dr. Max Meirowsky (1866–1949).

Image above: Georg Wrba: Diana on a doe, c.1901, Foto: Lenbachhaus

Proactive research on the part of Lenbachhaus found that the work had been confiscated in 1938 in an act of National Socialist persecution. The Bavarian capital city of Munich has a clear stance in this regard: The injustices perpetrated by the National Socialist regime must not be allowed to occur again. Accordingly, public offices expressly work to restitute cultural assets to their former owners or to the owners’ legal heirs. The restitution of the statue is based on the principles of the Washington Declaration of 1998 regarding works of art confiscated under National Socialism. The decision by the Munich Department of Arts and Culture to restitute the work was made on May 2. 2024.

Georg Wrba: Diana on a doe, c.1901, Foto: Lenbachhaus

The silver statue “Diana on a Doe” is counted among the early works of the Munich artist Georg Wrba (1872–1939). A bronze casting of the figure is said to have been presented for the first time in 1899 as part of the Munich Secession exhibition. There are several versions of the statue in bronze and silver, produced by various different casting houses. Nevertheless, documents clearly show that the object in question is the silver statue from the collection of Dr. Max Meirowsky

About Dr. Max Meirowsky

Meirowsky, a Cologne entrepreneur, patron of the arts and passionate art collector, owned a company providing insulation materials to meet growing demand from the automobile and electrical industries. He used his fortune to build an art collection that included works by Renoir, Gauguin and van Gogh. He commissioned the Munich artist Georg Wrba in the course of the expansion of his Cologne-Lindenthal villa, built in 1910. Meirowsky had resigned from his position as Director of the Cologne-based company “Meirowsky & Co AG” in the mid-1920s and moved to Berlin. His company in Berlin closed down in 1927, the company premises was confiscated and sold off in 1938.

His collection suffered a similar fate: After Meirowsky had offered individual works for sale to German museums beginning in 1936, he began selling entire blocks of artworks in 1937. In November 1938 the Berlin auction house Hans W. Lange sold 140 objects from Meirowsky’s collection. Today a total of over 300 works from his collection are still considered missing. Meirowsky urgently needed the returns from the sales in order to pay what were referred to as the Reich Flight Tax and the Jewish Capital Tax. Lenbachhaus purchased two objects at the Berlin auction: the silver statue by Georg Wrba and a painting by Philipp Röth, which was already restituted in 2012.

Immediately after the auction, Meirowsky emigrated to Switzerland via the Netherlands. He died stateless in Geneva in 1949. His will dated June 3, 1948 mandated the founding of the Bona Terra Foundation, dedicated to work on behalf of the trades and agriculture in Israel. In 1954 the Foundation was brought to life with the support of Paul Guggenheim, executor of Meirowsky’s will.

Anton Biebl, Director of the Munich Department of Arts and Culture, says: “The current upsurge in right-wing populism feeds on abandonment of the culture of remembrance and on disregard for the historical obligations upon us. Returning cultural assets confiscated under the aegis of National Socialist persecution is a central aspect of responsibility in commemorating those persecuted and murdered under National Socialism. I am therefore particularly pleased that the city of Munich can today return the silver statue ‘Diana on a Doe’ by Georg Wrba to the heirs of Dr. Max Meirowsky.”

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