A Nazi-looted 17th-century painting that was returned to its rightful owners in April by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) sold for $3.37 million (US) at a Christie’s auction in New York on June 5.
In spirited bidding by multiple would-be buyers, Dutch Old Master Gerrit van Honthorst’s The Duet fetched more than the $2 million to $3 million the auction house estimated it would go for. The sale sets a new auction record for the artist.
The MMFA restituted the painting to Gerald Matthes of Michigan, grandson of the wealthy businessman Bruno Spiro of Hamburg, Germany, who is believed to have bought the painting in 1931 when St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum put in on the block in Berlin.
After his death in 1936 following his deportation, The Duet and the rest of a large art collection was passed on to his widow, Ellen Clara Spiro, who was later forced to hand over her assets to the Nazis.
Matthes is one of seven heirs of the Spiros.
The Duet had been in the MMFA’s collection since 1969.
When he was in Montreal to receive the painting, Matthes said he would give a “substantial amount” from the proceeds of the sale to the MMFA “for acting in good faith.”
The Duet, which depicts a man and woman singing from the same book, had been on exhibit for a long time in the MMFA’s Jean Desmarais Pavilion.