November 10, 2017

Auction Alert: Sotheby’s London and Henryk Siemiradzki's “The Sword Dance”

Image Credit: ARCA - Screen Capture 10 November 2017
Yesterday provenance scholar Yagna Yass-Alston, a specialist in the history of Jewish artists and collectors, alerted ARCA that a version of 19th century painter Henryk Siemiradzki's The Sword Dance," is currently up for sale in the November 28th Russian Pictures auction to be held at Sotheby’s in London. The painting appears to be on offer through a private German collector who acquired the painting through his parents circa 1960.

Yass-Alston noted that the painting is published in the Polish Database of the Division of Looted Art of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and provided a link to the painting's identification and details on the ministry’s database.  According to the website, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has, since 1992, been responsible for gathering information regarding cultural property lost from within the post-1945 borders of Poland with an aim at their recovery.

Image Credit: ARCA - Screen Capture 10 November 2017
The Polish ministry of culture and national heritage has stated that it is in contact with the auction firm and will undertake efforts to have the painting withdrawn from the upcoming sale.

Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki (1843 - 1902) was born into a Polish noble family, the son of an officer of the Imperial Russian Army.  He studied art in Saint Petersburg at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and later in both Munich and Rome. His paintings are inspired by the life of Greek and Roman mythology and he is believed to be one of the major interpreters of the so-called Arte Accademica, also known as Academic art, or academicism or academism, a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art which reflected the aesthetic canons of the past.

In verifying the version of the painting in question, ARCA's own research identified three other distinct and original versions of the painting “The Sword Dance,” each with slight modifications by the artist in the composition. 

The master version, believed to have been completed in 1878 and catalogued as Schwertertanz in the catalog record of the Akademi der Künste zu Berlin, was acquired by Count Alexander Orlovsky.  The present whereabouts of this version are not known.  

Another version, commissioned by Moscow merchant and collector K.T. Soldatenkov, was given to the Rumyantsev Museum at his death and now is part of the State Tretyakov Gallery collection in Moscow. 

A third version of “The Sword Dance” was sold by Sotheby's on April 12, 2011 in New York.  Listed as “Property from the Slotkowski Collection,” this version of the artwork sold for a record price of 2,098,500 USD, making it one of the 10 most expensive auctioned artworks from Poland.  

At the time of this third version's sale, Sotheby's listed the artwork's provenance as follows:

Franz Otto Matthiessen, an American sugar mogol, died in 1901. Artworks from his extensive collection were sold shortly thereafter. William Schaus, Jr. was the son of Wilhelm, later William Schaus, Sr., a German-immigrant art collector and proprietor of Schaus Galleries in New York City.  It is not clear from the Sotheby's notation if they are referencing father or son, but the label on the frame of this painting reads "Schaus," making it clear that the painting passed through the Schaus Galleries, but leaving it vague as to who acquired the painting first, Matthiessen or Schaus, as Matthiessen often purchased from Schaus. This version of the painting reappears on the market in 1968 when Dr. Eugene L. Slotkowski, the founder of the Slotkowski Sausage Company in Chicago, acquired the work from an unnamed  private collector.

Estimating war losses incurred by Poland in the area of objects of art is difficult to assess, as the country suffers not only from a lack of complete archival materials but also changes in geographic territory, making establishing legal claims more difficult. What is certain is that scores of museum and private collections disappeared during the hostilities.  

While some quote Poland as having lost over 516,000 works of art (Archiwum Akt Nowych w Warszawie, zespól Ministerstwa Kultury i Sztuki), this estimate is likely quite low, as it only considers those claims established by former owners after the conclusion of the war.