Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
In 1912 David C. Preyer wrote in his book The Art of the Berlin Galleries that the then Royal National Gallery did not until 1896 make any effort to add foreign works to its collection. In taking the reader through a tour of Gallery V of the museum, which contained principally the work of French Impressionists, he pointed out one work by Edouard Manet, titled “In the Conservatory.” He wrote that it showed a man and a woman, M. and Mme. Guillemet, “friends of the artist, whom he posed on the veranda of his studio in the Rue d’Amsterdam before a group of exotic plants.” “It is,” he observed, “a beautiful painting, of vibrating colour, rich, pure paint, simple composition, with the whole picture based upon two or three values.” This painting, also known as “The Greenhouse” and “Wintergarden,” had been given to Berlin’s National-Galerie as a gift by the Berlin Friends of Art in 1896. After the Nazis took over Germany, there were some who apparently considered selling French Impressionist works, including Manet’s work, from German museums.
In The Washington Post this past week was a photograph of American soldiers in the mine at Merkers, Germany, looking at the Manet painting. The caption read: “U.S. soldiers examine the painting Wintergarden by French Impressionist Edouard Manet, stolen by the Nazi regime and hidden in a salt mine in Merkers, Germany.” Actually this piece of art work, as all others stored and recovered at Merkers, were German-owned, not looted.
Yet, newspapers, articles, and other published sources for decades have labeled the painting as looted. They did so based on an erroneous caption on the Signal Corps photograph at the National Archives. But it does not take much effort to know that the paintings evacuated from Berlin’s museums to Merkers in March 1945, were not looted. There are numerous articles and books that explain what art works were taken to Merkers and what happened to them. See for example my article “Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure,” in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Vol. 31 No. 1 (Spring 1999).
The art works recovered at Merkers in mid-April 1945 were moved by the U.S. Army to the Reichsbank in Frankfurt. In late August they were moved to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, a repository primarily for German-owned property.
At Wiesbaden Manet’s Wintergarden (like the other German-owned art works) were recorded on Property Cards, documenting accessions and transfers. The Manet work was assigned the accession identification WIE 0/199, with the presumed owner being listed as Berlin’s National-Galerie. The cards erroneously indicate that the painting had been deposited at Merkers in March 1944, when it was actually in March 1945. The cards show the painting arriving at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point during August-September 1945 and leaving in November 1945, with the location on August 31, 1946, being Washington. Manet’s work was sent in November 1945, along with some 200 other German-owned art works, to be exhibited at the National Gallery of Art and other museums. The catalogue for the exhibit very carefully listed how the German museums received the art works, to dispel any belief that any of the works had been looted. The property card for its accessioning shows that it returned to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point on May 5, 1949 and left again on May 31, 1949. The latter date was when the work was returned to the German Government. It is on display today at the Alte Nationalgalerie.
The property cards are part of the series Records Relating to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Property Accessions, 1945–1949 (NAID 2431627) and Records Relating to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Property Transfers, 1945–1948 (NAID 2431631), Record Group 260, and are available on rolls 102 and 114 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947.
 Masterpieces from the Berlin Museums Exhibited in Cooperation with the Department of the Army of the United States of America 1948-1949 (Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1948), p. 63.
 Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1995), p. 33.