Three paintings by the Impressionists Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac, once kidnapped by the Nazis, will be offered for the first time at Sotheby’s public auction in London. At the auction they are put up by the heirs of the French collector of Jewish origin Gaston Prosper Levy, who received the work for the last two years. Two paintings were hung at the Museum of Orsay in Paris, and the third was found in the infamous collection of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich.
Gaston Levy is a successful businessman and developer, a famous philanthropist and collector who lived in Paris in the 1920s-1930s. His magnificent apartment was filled with books and works of art, which he acquired from such famous dealers of his time as Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard.
Pissarro and Paul Signac’s pointillist works were stolen by the Nazis after Levi fled from Paris to North Africa to escape the occupation during World War II. His heirs received the paintings from the Paris Museum in 2018, and the painting from Germany is from the past.
At the London auction Sotheby’s, which will be held on February 4, the works can bring together up to 20 million pounds ($ 25 million).
“These works are evidence of the persistent and ultimately triumphant attempts of the two great artists to overcome new boundaries in art. Every inch of their paintings lies in a carefully composed kaleidoscope with a perfectly matched color,” Sotheby’s says.
The most expensive painting with a preliminary estimate of 8-12 million pounds will be “The Peasant Girl Making a Fire” (1888) by Camille Pissarro. This is one of the greatest works created by pointillists. It took the artist six months to write a scene with a young peasant and a child making a fire in the field on a cold winter morning. Each of his strokes conveys the effect of heat and cold, the complexity of light and atmosphere, the unique shades of fire, smoke and cold air.
Gaston Levy patronized the pointillists, made friends with Paul Signac and gave money for his project on writing French ports (securing the first choice from each set of watercolors). The businessman’s collection contained 44 paintings by the artist. At the auction will be presented two paintings of Paul Signac from different periods of his work. One of them conveys a gray day in the port of Paris, and the other – the exotic charm of the Istanbul coast.
Painting of Signac “Cloudy weather.” (1887), found in the “Gurlitt Collection”, sold for 600-800 thousand pounds (up to a million dollars). It was stolen from Levi’s country house near Paris, where he sent his treasure for storage. The canvas got to the famous collection of German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt somewhere between 1943 and 1947. He bequeathed the paintings and drawings to his hermit son, who hid them in the Munich apartment. Cornelius Gurlitt’s “Treasure” of over 1500 works was discovered in 2012. Sinyak’s work was the seventh painting identified by experts as illegal Nazi prey. The German authorities returned it to Levi’s heirs in July 2019.
Signac’s landscape “Juan-Les-Pins. The evening” (1907) Sinyaka depicts sailing ships anchored in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) against the background of the dome and minarets of Aya Sofia, shining in the background. The upper estimate of the canvas is 7 million pounds sterling ($9 million).
Sotheby’s spokesman Thomas Boyd-Bowman said in an interview with the Guardian: “It’s a pity that the Orsay Museum lost these paintings, but this is a good example of decent country behavior. It’s right, because looting and vandalism should not benefit others”.