Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, Minister of Culture, welcomes the restitution, on 1er July 2021, from a painting by Max Pechstein, Naked in a landscape, to the rights holders of Hugo and Gertrud Simon and of a phylactery bag to the rights holders of Élie Léon and Georges Lévi-Valensin, and welcomes the work of the departments of the Ministry of Culture, the National Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Art and History of Judaism (MAHJ) and the Commission pour l'indemnisation des victimes de spoliations (CIVS) who worked there.
Max Pechstein’s painting, Naked in a landscape, was under the responsibility of the National Museum of Modern Art and fell under the category of "National Museums Recovery" under number R29P. This painting belonged to Hugo Simon (1880-1950), banker, collector, German patron, of the Jewish family, influential figure of German artistic circles during the Weimar Republic, and support of the expressionist movement. Having fled Nazi Germany in 1933, he moved to Paris where he became involved in supporting German refugees and anti-Nazi artists. In 1941 he managed to flee France to Brazil with his family, forced to abandon books and works of art, many of which were stolen and disappeared. He died in 1950 without being able to return to Europe or recover most of his assets.
The painting of Max Pechstein stolen or left abandoned at Hugo Simon’s house was found in 1966 in the cellars of the Palais de Tokyo without being able to explain the route that had led him there. In view of the research carried out by the National Museum of Modern Art in connection with the family of Hugo Simon, the Commission for Compensation for Victims of Spoliation recommended to the Prime Minister, in 2020, that the painting be returned to the rights holders of Hugo and Gertrud Simon.
The phylactery bag (or tefilines) was kept at the Museum of Art and History of Judaism. It was found in Europe after the Second World War and entrusted to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), which brought together judaica (books, ritual objects, etc.) scattered throughout the former Reich and occupied Europe. This bag was thus part of a collection of 114 Jewish religious objects in disuse, without known owner, deposited by the JRSO at the former Jewish art museum on Rue des Saules in Paris, which himself transferred it to the Museum of Art and History of Judaism when it opened in 1998.
This bag, which contained the phylacteries necessary for daily morning prayer, was offered in Algiers in August 1888 to Élie Léon Lévi-Valensin (1875-1945), on the occasion of his bar Mitzvah (religious majority) as indicated by the name, date and place embroidered on the object itself. The bag found in the territory controlled by the Nazis was probably stolen in Paris during the Occupation at the home of Élie Léon Lévi-Valensin’s son, Doctor Georges Lévi-Valensin (1902-1987), whose Parisian apartment and medical office were looted in 1942. The bag was identified by Élie Léon Lévi-Valensin’s great-granddaughter at the time of the MAHJ exhibition on the Jews of Algeria in 2012-2013.
The Minister of Culture especially salutes the rights holders of the two dispossessed families. Animated by the memory of their forefathers, they carry a special memory: that of the Jews and antinazis German or Austrian, forced to leave their homeland then, later, France, forced to rebuild their lives several times, such as Hugo and Gertrud Simon in Brazil; that of the Jews of Algeria, French citizens in their own right and yet stripped of their nationality by the Vichy regime, present on both sides of the Mediterranean, such as Élie Léon Lévi-Valensin in Algiers and her son Georges Lévi-Valensin in Paris.
The Ministry of Culture and the museums and libraries concerned, together with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Dispossession and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, their efforts to identify looted cultural property and its owners, and to make possible new restitution.
The painting of Max Pechstein is exhibited for a few weeks at the National Museum of Modern Art in a room paying tribute to its spoliated owner, Hugo Simon, thanks to the generous loan offered by his rights holders.