Unlike Romantic painters, Carl Blechen’s perception of nature does not seem exaggerated or glorifying. It is true that here his scenery is monumental, immense, but this is mainly due to the unusual perspective, which gives the cliff a much greater weight in the composition than the monastery on top of it. The human figures appear tiny, but not lost. The precise capture of the parts illuminated by a soft light and those in shadow also testifies to the artist’s interest in faithful reproduction of nature. The picture, however, was not painted en plein air, but in the studio.
Finding solutions and research impulse
This extraordinary rocky Italian landscape painted by Carl Blechen and was purchased by the Kunsthalle in 1969. At that time the museum knew nothing of the paintings origin or that it had been part of the former collection of Rudolf Mosse. It wasn’t until a claim for restitution arrived from an American law firm in 2014 that its connexion with the Mosse collection came to light.
So, who was Rudof Mosse ?
As a newspaper proprietor and art collector Mosse was one of the German empires most successful entrepreneurs. His publishing company in Berlin owned numerous liberal newspapers and magazines. Among them the widely read daily Berliner Tageblatt. He put his considerable fortune to use as patron founder and supporter of Jewish social projects.
From the 1880s onwards he built up a substantial art collection largely focusing on 19th century German painting. The Mosse mansion on Leipziger Platz was one of Berlin’s first private museums and at times was open to the public. You can see it now on your display.
When Rudolf Mosse died in 1920 his publishing company was taken over by his son-in-law Hans Lachmann-Mosse. But in September 1932 as a consequence of the great depression and increasing political pressure, he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Research into the demise of the publishing house has revealed that the ensuing bankruptcy proceedings were not conducted fairly. Hans Lachmann-Mosse and his wife Felicia were subjected to the persecutions of the Nazis.
Immediately after the Nazi takeover in 1933 their home was forcibly entered by Hitler’s storm troopers and the couple were compelled to transfer their remaining assets to a foundation which ended up in the hands of the German Reich. This expropriation took place under the threat of violence. According to archival records there was a loaded pistol on the table throughout arms. Hans and Felicia Lachmann-Mosse signed the contract with the foundation. Immediately afterwards they had to leave Germany.
In the spring of 1934 the Mosse families art collection was compulsively auctioned off in the Rudolf Lepke auction house in Berlin. The proceeds of the sale went to the German state. With the dispersal of the collection the name of Rudolph Mosse one of the great collector personalities of imperial Germany was also erased from living memory. On the basis of this now known history Blechens Italian landscape along with all the other 324 artworks from the former Mosse collection, which were auctioned off in 1934, must be categorised as Nazi confiscated property.
In 2014 the federal state of Baden Württemberg made restitution of Blechen landscape for the collective heirs of Rudolf Mosse. But the Kunsthalle was then able legitimately to buy it back and not only that the case provided the impetus for an international research project at the university of Berlin with the aim of reconstructing the former master collection. Started in 2017 this is financed jointly by the German centre for last cultural property and the community of heirs of Rudolf Mosse. Meanwhile a considerable number of works from the Mosse collection have already been identified in German museums and restitution has taken place. The case of the Blechen painting was ultimately resolved in a way that was positive for all concerned.
The community of heirs were able to negotiate a just and fair solution in the spirit of the Washington principles and Blechen repurchased landscape painting will forever be associated with the name of Rudolf Mosse here in the Kunsthalle.