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Former Jewish Owners Demand Return of Monet Masterpiece

Grandson of wealthy Jewish businessman is demanding that Swiss foundation return Monet masterpiece his family was forced to sell during WWII
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 11/1/2012, 12:15 AM

Director of Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum Emily Ansenk
Director of Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum Emily Ansenk
Reuters

The grandson of a wealthy Jewish businessman is demanding that a Swiss foundation return a Monet masterpiece that the family was forced to sell for a fraction of its value when they were forced to flee Europe during World War II, a Swiss newspaper reported Wednesday.

Juan Carlos Emden, the Chilean grandson of Max Emden who bought Claude Monet's "Poppy Field near Vetheuil" in the 1920s, is seeking to recover the painting from the Swiss Buehlre collection, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) reported, according to AFP.

Max Emden was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 for Ticino in Switzerland, where he built the Villa Emden to house his large art collection, including "Poppy Field near Vetheuil", one of Monet's most famous paintings.

After his death in 1940, his only son Hans Erich Emden was forced to sell his father's art collection in haste to finance his trip fleeing Europe for South America.

He sold the Monet for just 30,000 Swiss francs, $32,220, to a Jewish German merchant, who in turn sold it to Swiss citizen Emil Buehrle for 35,000 francs, about $37,590.

The impressionist painting illustrates children gathering poppies in a field, with the tall structure of the Notre Dame de Vetheuil in the background.

According to NZZ, the painting is today valued at around 25 million francs, approximately $27 million.

Juan Carlos Emden, who has reportedly been fighting for years to regain ownership of his grandfather's painting, is planning to travel to Zurich to discuss with his lawyers how to recover the masterpiece, the paper said, according to AFP.

The Buehrle foundation, which houses a renowned collection that also includes other works by Monet, as well works by Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh among others, could not be immediately reached for comment.

"Poppy Field near Vetheuil" was stolen during a heist at the Buehrle museum in Zurich in 2008 with three other works of art, but was found several days later in the boot of a car in a Zurich parking lot.

More recently, thieves made off with paintings by Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and other prominent modern artists from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum on October 16 in a brazen and meticulously planned operation. The seven stolen works, which also include a Gauguin, a Lucian Freud and a Meyer de Haan, are thought to be worth tens of millions of dollars.