Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Looted Matisse goes to UK charity

Le Mur Rose
The painting will be given to the charity on Thursday

A painting by Henri Matisse, which was stolen from a German Jewish family by the Nazis, is to be given to a British charity.

Le Mur Rose was confiscated from the Fuld family in the late 1930s and kept by a Nazi officer responsible for delivering poison gas to Auschwitz.

The work has been at France's national museum of modern art since 1949.

It will be handed to Magen David Adom UK, a charity that supports medical rescue in Israel, later this week.

It's a remarkable and in some ways slightly creepy story
Stuart Glyn, Magen David Adom UK

Proceeds from the expected sale of the painting will go toward the charity's network of ambulances, paramedics and emergency treatment centres in Israel.

"It's a remarkable and in some ways slightly creepy story," said Stuart Glyn, chairman of the charity, who will take delivery of the artwork at the French Culture Ministry in Paris.

The painting belonged to Harry Fuld who made his fortune in telephones, founding the H. Fuld & Co. Telefon und Telegraphenwerke AG in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1899, the charity said.

After Fuld died in 1932, his art collection passed to his son, Harry Fuld Jr. He fled Nazi Germany in 1937, packing the collection into crates, which he gave to a shipping company to transport.

But the collection never left the country and it was confiscated it by the Nazis. The painting ended up in the hands of Kurt Gerstein, an officer in the Nazis' Waffen SS.

Gas chambers

Gerstein was an expert in decontamination techniques, assigned to the Hygiene Institute of the SS, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On its website, it says Gerstein was responsible for delivering Zyklon B poison used in the gas chambers - to Auschwitz and other camps.

Gerstein surrendered to French authorities in April 1945, and later hanged himself.

French police recovered the painting three years later from a cache near Gerstein's home in Tuebingen, Germany.

Harry Fuld Jr. died in 1963 and for unknown reasons willed his estate to a woman called Gisela Martin.

She in turn left her estate to Magen David Adom UK when she died in Switzerland in 1992.

Buddha statues

The Matisse, which is worth a "a good six-figure sum", will be displayed in a museum before being sold, said Mr Glyn.

The charity is also trying to recover other parts of the Fuld collection, which included 12th century Buddha statues, 16th century Italian masters, furniture and other art.

Mr Glyn said trying to prove ownership of the pieces was a "long, slow and expensive process".

"Our representatives are in discussions and negotiations with a whole raft of people, including national museums and governments, to see whether some of this stuff can come back," he said.

"Some of the stuff is far more important than the Matisse."

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