Gisela Bermann-Fischer waited almost 70 years to get back a painting by Camille Pissarro stolen from her family’s home in Vienna by the Gestapo in 1938.
She recovered “Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps” after a quest that pitched her into a battle of lawyers’ letters with Bruno Lohse, a Nazi art dealer appointed by Hermann Goering to loot treasures in occupied France, and finally led to a Zurich bank vault, where the picture was stashed in a safe. Prosecutors sealed the safe as part of a continuing three-nation probe into associates of Lohse suspected of extortion and money-laundering.
Now 80, Bermann-Fischer will auction the 1903 painting at Christie’s International’s sale of impressionist and modern art in London on June 23. Its value is estimated at between 900,000 pounds ($1.45 million) and 1.5 million pounds. Bermann-Fischer says it cost her at least 500,000 Swiss francs ($466,000) to recover the Pissarro, mainly in lawyers’ fees. At no point during her quest could she be sure of getting the artwork back.
One of the intriguing parts of the story was the brief resurfacing of the work in 1984:
“I don’t think we’ll ever find out from where to where the painting was transported over the years,” Bermann-Fischer said. “It truly was hidden. I think the exhibition at l’Hermitage Lausanne in 1984 was a test run, to see whether the original owners or any heirs were still on the lookout for the paintings and would make a claim.”