At Chapman’s 2016 Student Scholar Symposium, students Bryleigh Blaise and Rosita Saul presented a poster tracking the history of the Nazi-looted painting “View of a Dutch Square” which had been stolen from Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus in 1941. Exploring the restitution procedures in Bavaria, their poster showed how difficult this process had been for the Kraus family.
Last spring, the painting was finally returned to the family’s rightful heirs, and both the New York Times and Time Magazine reported on it. Gottlieb Kraus’ granddaughter Nancy Heingartner, who had come across Blaise and Saul’s poster on the Chapman University’s Digital Commons website, reached out to their Chapman adviser Dr. Wendy Salmond to share the exciting news.
Blaise said she was “bouncing off the walls” when she heard this. “I honestly thought it would take more time, that it would go on for another fifteen years,” she said.
This painting was one of around 160 paintings that was stolen from the Kraus family by the Gestapo during World War II. Heingartner told us that the family is still maintaining hope that maybe someday they’ll see another painting or two. In the meantime, they plan to donate “View of a Dutch Square” to the Jewish Museum of Vienna.
Heingartner explained that students can play an important role in art restitution, and urges them to watch films such as The Monuments Men that illustrate these important stories.
“If students watch some of these films, they will become aware that restitution is an active and vibrant field of study – one that can really offer you some cloak and dagger opportunities to make things right when things are not right,” she explained.
Indeed, Blaise and Saul were inspired to research looted paintings after watching the 2015 biographical drama Woman in Gold which documents the true story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee who fought the Austrian government for her aunt’s stolen painting.
“You can’t help but be touched by these stories,” said Blaise. “The art was something that was in their home, a part of their family.”
According to Saul, many people “take art for granted because it holds more emotional rather than material value.” However, art is extremely important specifically “because of those memories—because of those emotions.”
Both Blaise and Saul agreed it was exciting to bring awareness to this issue by presenting their work at the Student Scholar Symposium, and they urge more students to “put themselves out there, present and share their work.”
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