image detail "Tarquin and Lucrece from the circle of Simon Vouet", title according Christie's 1983

Looted Art Found in the Metropolitan Museum New York

After nearly 40 years hidden in plain sight, looted art from Jewish owners—whose story had been forgotten after their deaths, or had been simply covered up for decades—has been found. According to the Met, the painting first appeared in 1983 at an auction at Christie’s. With the tagline “Tarquin and Lucrece from the circle of Simon Vouet,” it was sold for 106,000 pounds. The history of the previous owners was unknown and not investigated, and the museum quickly changed the title and name of the artist; the painting was now called the Rape of Tamar by Eustache Le Sueur.

 

Were there no doubts raised when the Met bought this piece of art?

 

The large painting was one of the most important key works of looted art from the collection of the Jewish art dealers Siegfried Aram and Heinrich Grünwald, both of whom were born and raised in Heilbronn. Grünwald died in February 1945 in French exile, but Aram was still alive after the war and was fighting for restitution of the painting, which he pursued in long civil trials in Germany—something rarely acknowledged by anyone in the early post-war period. The trial records range from 1949 to 1970. The man who stole the painting in 1933 never broke his silence about the whereabouts of the expensive piece, and Siegfried Aram searched for decades, until his own death in 1978—five years before the painting popped up at Christie’s in 1983.

 

Tarquin and Lucrece was not just another of the many masterpieces that passed through the hands of Siegfried Aram, often on commission. Aram took the painting into his private collection, brought it to his home in the Black Forest. Why? Did it have a special meaning for him?

"Tarquin and Lucrece from the circle of Simon Vouet", title according Christie's 1983

Powerful Symbolic Meaning

The painting retells a key myth of the Roman Empire. It focuses on the rise of the Republic, dictatorship, resistance, and hope for a new beginning. The tyrant Tarquin rapes Lucrece, but she resists. She brings the history of the events and her resistance to public attention, and she stirs rebellion by her suicide. The citizens want revenge, the tyrant is overthrown, and the era of the Republic begins. Although Lucrece loses everything, her initiative is victorious in the public/political sense, triggering revolution and a new era of the Republic. This myth had significant meaning for the French Revolution, and even a young Shakespeare gave his passionate voice to the legend in his narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece. Revolution and equal rights for Jews came with the French Republic, as the declaration of Human Rights had promised. Siegfried Aram brought a cannon from the French Revolution to his countryside estate in the Black Forest, with the inscription “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). His grandfather went to the US searching for liberty after the failed German revolution in 1848, and came back to Germany with the promise of equal and civil rights in the 1860s. The dramatic scene of the painting in which Lucrece is depicted at knifepoint would have had an added poignancy for Aram—he himself was threatened by Nazis with drawn knives in 1931. 

Artemisia Gentileschi also painted Lucrece several times, roughly 400 years ago, and partly inspired by Vouet; the legend had a deep meaning for her too. Like Siegfried Aram, she was able to identify with the despair of the oppressed, as well as the hope to overcome the tyrant. In Germany, the dictatorship was also followed by a republic, but how did the German Republic deal with this emigrant searching for his stolen property after 1945?

“Restitution denied”—it takes a long time to fight for your rights and to change a society beyond the surface level.

below: Gentileschi depicting Tarquin and Lucrece

image detail, Tarquin and Lucrece by Artemisia Gentileschi

Time Echo discovered old court files regarding the case from 1949 to 1963, which had gone unexplored for decades, as with other cases involving the art collectors Aram and Grünwald.

image detail file Siegfried Aram 1959-1963 Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Siegfried Aram knew exactly who took the valuable painting during the Aryanization. The painting was part of his art collection in his large estate in the Black Forest, which he lost 1933 to a careerist of the new regime named Oskar Sommer from Trier in a transaction today can be considered  a forced sale. 

The fight between Aram and Sommer concerning the painting started in 1933 when Aram successfully insisted to exclude “Tarquin and Lucrece” from that forced sale contract of his Schwarzwald estate, but nevertheless Sommer broke the contract and withdrew the painting. A few weeks after signing the contract, Sommer wrote a letter which threatened and blackmailed his mother to get hold of Tarquin and Lucrece.

Research on Sommer revealed the businessman made a career under the Nazis, becoming vice president of the Chamber of Commerce in Trier in 1933, an organization that enforced Aryanization. He also joined the Nazi party in May 1933. Sommer took over Jewish property twice, Siegfried Aram’s Schlössle in the Black Forest as well as a large, multistory office building in Berlin in 1937-39 (see memorial page to the previous owner, Moritz Feidt in a process of Aryanization, which today are considered to be forced sales. After the war, Sommer’s business continued to flourish, and he basked in the best of reputations, becoming an advisor to the Landesbank and Consul of Panama, which created new business opportunities for his old network.

Siegfried Aram filed a lawsuit for restitution against him. The beneficiary of the Aryanization was known, but the painting “Tarquinius and Lucretia” remained securely hidden. The restitution of the Schwarzwald Estate was  refused by the court. 

For Siegfried Aram in 1950 in Germany it was déjà vu: the opponent with the looted art still was king of the road in the courts and offices, which were often populated with the same people as before. The Schlössle was not returned to the Jewish emigrant; it had long since been sold, and the famous painting was supposedly sold as well. For the court, the subject was a private matter. Siegfried Aram appealed against the first judgement and in 1952 a settlement below value was negotiated (DM 30.000). Siegfried Aram had to pay DM 12.000 for his lawyer, he reported.

The court was wrong. The Aryanization was not a private matter. The police had prevented a transport in 1933. The frozen accounts, the seizures and the confiscation of the funds went largely through the state tax offices. The state caused Aram and Grünwald to flee by various means of suppression. Aram took legal action in the matter against the former German Reich, represented by the new state authorities, but lost the case again. He then applied for compensation according to new laws protecting victims, and lost again.

The burden of proof lies with the persecuted. After more than ten years of trials, the then 71-year-old Aram complained that “the ridiculous restitution law demands that after all these years that I should prove where the stolen pieces are! I have no money for detectives, because I’m old and sick.”

Five years after his death, Christie’s Tarquin and Lucrece went up for sale. The painting had been carefully hidden all those years, obviously by the Sommer family itself, who brought it to Christie’s in 1983, as the New York Times reports, after Time Echo brought the case to the attention of its editors. Investigative reporter Graham Bowley found the last piece of puzzle: In January 2020 he asked two daughters of Oskar Sommer about the painting and they admitted that the family sold the painting 1983 anonymously at Christie’s—supposedly not knowing about its past.

In an upcoming chapter, we will see Aram’s fight in court to get back the painting and other looted art and property.

See also the first chapters of the biography of the Jewish art dealers Siegfried Aram and Heinrich Grünwald –  http://time-echo.de

Restoring a Painting's History: Tarquin and Lucrece by Vouet

Image detail "Tarquin and Lucrece from the circle of Simon Vouet", title according Christie's 1983

Simon Vouet worked passionately on the story of Lucrece multiple times . Vouet’s preferred model—his lover and later wife, Virginia Vezzi (who was called Virginia de Vezzo in France)—was also the model for Lucrece. Vouet staged different parts of the story, including the scene when the suicide of Lucrece is discovered. It is remarkable how Lucrece wears a similar costume in the painting held in Potsdam as well as in the painting in Metropolitan Museum New York; the color combination of blue and orange in her dress, with a pale yellow shawl around her shoulders. In both she has the characteristic red hair, and both paintings also show her with a similar hairstyle with a variations in her pearl hair decoration.

Vouet depicts the Suicide of Lucrece being discovered 

"Suicide of Lucrece" Simon Vouet, Potsdam Schloß Sanssouci

Here Vouet shows the turning point of the story: in this moment of grief and shock, the impulse to act is awakened—the men will now overthrow the tyrant.

Vouet does not depict Lucrece naked, like many other painters before him, and adds other signs of her virtuousness. Part of the legend of Lucrece is that she is grouped with her maids (spinning) when Tarquin (Sextus Tarquinius, the last king of Rome) first discovers her. In Vouet’s version of Tarquin and Lucrece, a maid flees in the background. 

During his time in Rome, Vouet worked in the chiaroscuro style, influenced by Caravaggio. However, he was open to other influences, too, also designing in bright, luminous compositions, as shown in his painting of Saint Cecilia around 1626 (below right), as well as an altarpiece for St. Peter’s Basilica 1625 (following image).

On the right image detail Saint Cecilia by Simon Vouet, 1626, Wiki Commons, Blanton Museum of Art

His dynamic compositions are based on the energetic, swinging motions of his drawings, as can be seen from the almost sketchy brushstrokes of the hair of the two angels, reminiscent of the loose hair of Lucretia in New York.

Model for Altar of St. Peter, Rome by Simon Vouet 1625

Similar to the way in which the two depictions of Lucrece held in Potsdam and New York show similar costume elements, we also find examples of the multiple treatment of the same costume in Vouet’s paintings in Caritas Romana, in this case also with the same model.

two versions of Caritas Romana by Simon Vouet, 1630-35

As more time probably passed between the two Lucrece paintings, it is all the more surprising that Vouet chose a very similar costume for both.

Vouet developed a special collaboration with Virginia Vezzi, who fulfilled an ideal of beauty common at the time. Not only a model and lover (similar to Raphael’s muse Margherita Luti, of whom a depiction was also found in the looted art of Siegfried Aram), Vezzi was herself a highly respected painter who had her artistic breakthrough in the 1620s. Her Judith with the Head of Holofernes (below) brought her great recognition:

Virginia Vezzi, 1624-26, Judith and Holofernes, pd wiki

Vouet and Vezzi formed a charismatic artist couple with a dynamic relationship. They met when Vezzi was in her early twenties and Vouet was in his thirties—he lived on the same street as her in Rome, Via Ferratina. Initially encouraged and trained by her father, who was also a painter, Vezzi improved her skills supported by Vouet, who also offered classes in his studio in Via Ferratina during this time. In 1624, Vouet became president of the Roman artists’ association Accademia de San Luca, named after that patron saint of artists, Saint Luke. Soon afterwards the academy accepted Vezzi into the association. As artists and lovers, Vezzi and Vouet deeply influenced each other. They married in 1626.

 

The highly talented and ambitious Vezzi soon found in Artemisia Gentileschi the role model of a successful female artist with self-confidence and a powerful woman’s perspective—reflected in her depiction of Judith and Holofernes.

Finally, the artist couple met Gentileschi in Rome, and Vouet celebrated her in a portrait of this time:

Gentileschi by Vouet (1623-1626)

Artemisia Gentileschi portrait by Simon Vouet, 1623-1626, pd, wiki

Gentileschi was already a famous painter in her mid-30s, with her own studio and male and female students. Vezzi was about ten years younger. Her painting of Judith from this period was also a homage to her idol.

Gentileschi’s father was one of the great realists who followed Caravaggio, a sensitive, radical humanist—the deeper roots of Vezzi and Vouet’s generation of young artists who met in Rome in the 1620s. They often chose themes that could be used to create haunting psychological portraits, for example women in existential conflicts that show a universal empathy with the vulnerable (Magdalena, Judith, Lucrece). It is amazing how Orazio Gentileschi was already preparing what would radically influence his daughter. Orazio surprises with very sensitive depictions of a mother-child relationship, or images of the persecuted and oppressed. His figures are not distant and elevated; rather they are human encounters in a realistic context, for example his painting depicting the holy family as refugees, which reminds us of the fate of refugees today.

Orazio Gentileschi, 1622-28, Wiki Commons

Orazio Gentileschi’s radical humanism still waits to be rediscovered, overshadowed as it has been by his more famous daughter. Vouet and Orazio Gentileschi both worked in Genoa from 1621 to 1622. 

Orazio Gentileschi 1612-15, Wiki Commons

Artemisia Gentileschi continued her father’s realism and added a new and surprising strong feminine view, for example in paintings such as Susanna in the Bath or Judith and Holofernes:

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1612, Judith and Holofernes, pd, wiki

Gentileschi’s personal experiences with violence drove her visions—she was raped by her first teacher, Agostino Tassi. As a painter, she found compelling visions of deep psychological impact that impressed Vezzi and Vouet. Gentileschi for her part also was inspired by her friends’ work, as the following paintings show. Around the time of their meeting, Vouet also painted the suicide of Lucrece with Vezzi as a model.

Suicide of Lucrece, approx.1625, National Gallery Prague

In an eerie echo of her paintings that featured a threatening dagger, Vezzi herself died by a knife injury—after a caesarean section in her thirties. She and Vouet had five children together. “Une mort trés violent,” reported contemporary Isaac Bullart. It was a common belief of this time that a mother could not survive a caesarean section, so it was done only in rare emergency cases. The term “caesarean section” goes back to Caesar, who, according to popular legend, was born this way. This legend has a deeper psychological twist, since the myth of the violent birth of Caesar can be seen as a hidden metaphor of the end of the Republic.

Sometime later Artemisia Gentileschi painted her version of Lucrece with a similar pictorial composition to Vouet. With Gentileschi’s deep empathy for the psychological conflict of the Lucrece, one would tend to assume that she preceded Vouet, but literature on Gentileschi confirms Vouet’s influence on her in this case.

Artemisa Gentileschi, Selbstmord der Lucretia, 1630-35

In this heyday of the mid-1620s, Orazio Gentileschi joined in the tribute to themes his daughter was so passionate about, before he left Italy for a long time (going to England). Likely his daughter, Artemisia, was a model for Judith here:

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Orazio Gentileschi, 1621-1624, wiki commons

For Vouet, too, his time in Italy was now over, and his style changed when he returned to France.

Vouet portrayed his wife in 1627 (one year after their marriage), as proud and self-confident. Their daughter Francesca was born in this time. 

Virginia Vezzi, as Magdalen (c. 1627) pd wiki

When Vouet returned to Paris in 1627, the king made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Vouet became the Premier Peintre du Roy—the most influential artist at the court, who was allocated rooms in the Louvre. The king often came to see Vouet’s young wife Virginia, whom he showered with admiration. The king’s preference for Vouet’s paintings, which are characterized by the strong sensuality of his female characters, especially Vezzi, does not exactly speak for the rumors of the king’s homosexuality. Vouet had landed in a golden cage. Louis XIII has sometimes been described as shy, sometimes as cruel. He murdered a competitor at the tender age of sixteen, and later sent his own mother into exile. He persecuted Protestants relentlessly all his life. In the end, he was a tyrant just like Tarquin. 

How their relationship with the king would develop was an unknown. When Nicolas Poussin came to Paris, rumor had it that Vouet’s star was falling, but Poussin left for Italy again. Tarquin and Lucrece was created during the king’s lifetime, probably at Studio Vouet. The king occasionally visited the studio of his court painter, and therefore probably observed the creation of this painting. Was it during the lifetime of Vezzi? Since she was not only a model, but also a recognized artist appreciated by the king, she might have been able to comment on the work in progress.

 

Did she defend Vouets concept to show one of her maids in the background ? It was more common to show a male servant in the story here. But why should be the virtuous Lucrece alone with a man in her night chamber, instead of her maids? Tarquin was also able to seize a servant in the house and lay the body of a slave beside her, claiming she lost her honor to the slave. As he threatens to murder her she yields to him. Would she also have defended the virtuousness of Lucrece, who Vouet depicted as less scantily clad than other artists did? And what did Louis XIII think of the representation of the tyrant? He was aware that even kings can be overthrown. He coined the famous phrase “I would not be a king if I afforded myself the sentiments of a private citizen.” Was it provocative to allude to the overthrowing of a tyrant at a time when unrest was growing in the country, just as absolutist rule was expanding? Perhaps during the period when the picture was being created it was better to resort to a different interpretation of it, even while it was not completely coherent, as it was too late to completely change the composition. 

 

Vouet and Vezzi must have been relieved if the king was more interested in the well-built body of the almost naked Tarquin than in chasing the beautiful Virginia. Vouet seems to have observed his time closely; he is also credited with a picture showing a provocative figure with one hand makes a sexual hand signal while the other hand is holding two figs that look like testicles. 

Young Man with Figs. Simon Vouet 1620-1630

Vouet and Vezzi were probably in no danger. The king himself had drawn enthusiastically in his youth, was an art lover, and was actually interested in Vezzi as an artist. Vezzi also was asked to teach, and why shouldn’t the king (who was in his mid-twenties like Vezzi) pursue some private lessons by the lovely Virginia? It’s said that she started a tradition teaching court ladies in the Louvre, no gentlemen).

 

Vouet portrayed the king several times; the drawing below is also in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. According to the museum, the drawing shows Vouet’s “personal relationship with the king, who not only commissioned from the painter a series of strikingly intimate pastel portraits of members of his court, but also had Vouet teach him to draw.” For the rest of his life Vouet remained the Premier Peintre du Roy of Louis XIII, who died 1643. 

Louis XIII by Simon Vouet 1632-1635

Vouet and Vezzi adapted themselves to a career at court, which provided less opportunity to charge paintings with personal messages as before in Italy. 

One of the last works in Italy linked to Vouet, a humorous allegory of peace, was made for his patron Cardinal Francesco 1627, the year of his departure to Paris. Although this painting’s attribution to Vouet is disputed, there are good reasons to see it closely linked to Vouet. It shows a muse in action as an artist (just like Virginia Vezzi) painting the goddess of peace who holds down a junk-like pile of armor with her scepter. Scholars see a great similarity here to Vouet’s depiction of Magdalene, who Vezzi modelled for, so possibly designed by him and executed by his followers. Was it a humorous farewell greeting before departing for Paris? 

Simon_Vouet_-teil_Allegory_of_Peace_pd-wiki-1627
Allegory of Peace, Simon Vouet, 1624

 

But the rulers of France did not remain peaceful. France waged war against the Huguenots as well as against Austria and the Pope, because the calculation of power was always more important than religion. In 1648, when the new king Louis XIV was still a child, there were revolts against the absolutists striving for power. In August 1648 Paris citizens built barricades, there was fighting, and the king’s family had fled by January 1649. In a surprising act of rebellion in this time Vouet started to lead opposition against the newly founded Académie Royale, founded by artists like Eustache Le Sueur, who feared for his privileges as a royal artist, with good reason.

While the royal family was in exile, Vouet founded the opposing institution Académie de Saint Luc on the model of the Accademia San Luca in Rome, which he presided over in the 1620s. Vouet provoked the Académie Royale by offering free drawing lessons (forbidden under the rule of the Académie Royale). Vouet remembered his time in Rome, when he was free to teach and accept a student like Virigina Vezzi or later allow her entrance into the Accademia San Luca. Was his act of rebellion just the vanity of an old man or an honest attempt grounded in the memory of his roots as a more independent artist?  The old artists’ guilds of Paris, which Vouet joined forces with in opposition to the Académie Royale, wanted to patronize and control the artists just as much as the new royal academy and Vouet quit his newly founded Académie de Saint Luc shortly after. With his fragile health in mind, he will have realistically considered his prospects of being crushed in the struggles of the opposing parties. At the end, it was not in vain, even symbolic actions and expressions (like his painting Tarquin and Lucrece) have a lasting meaning.

 

The political uprising against absolutist power as well as the battle between artist institutions continued for years. Vouet’s former students—including his sons-in-law— searched for career opportunities in the Académie Royale. Vouet’s time was over; he died in the summer of 1649 at the age of 61.

 

Given his proximity to the king, was it a risk to bring up the story of the tyrant Tarquin in this era of absolutism? Vouet might have had the wits for it; Eustache Le Sueur would never have touched such a story, not even in a camouflaged way or with a misleading attribution.

 

When the rebellion against the royal house was beaten back after five years, the ancien regime aimed for total control of the arts. Drawing lessons outside the Académie Royale were forbidden in 1654, and later subject to severe punishments. Art had to serve entirely the ancien regime and the “gran stil“ enforcing an even more kitschy academic style. The new strong man in France from the 1660s on, Jean Baptiste Colbert established a fierce absolutism. Sueur’s stiff academicism in the painting below, picturing the submission of St. Bruno before the Pope from 1646-48 is indicative of this new era. Artists like Caravaggio, who still influenced Vouet, were now despised, and Poussin called Caravaggio an anarchist destroyer of the arts. 

Jean Baptist Colbert and painting by Eustache Le Sueur 

 

J.B. Colbert by Champaigne 1666, wiki pd and Eustache Le Sueur 1646-48 

The king’s power was restored, but the old Roman myth finally caught up with the French royal house. In the trial against Louis XVI a century later Robespierre compared the French king with Tarquin before sending him to the guillotine—in this way the republic finally overthrew the king, as in the Roman myth.

This painting with a long history, and that depicted a 2000-year-old myth, was a painting with a special meaning for the previous Jewish collector Siegfried Aram.

 

Looted Art: Why Wasn't the Museum Suspicious?

Christie’s sold Vouet’s Tarquin and Lucrece without provenance and from an anonymous seller. Both the auction house and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York would have been aware of the risk. Why didn’t the auction house or museum investigate the painting’s past? 

Perhaps because of the lack of provenance, a new title based on a rather flimsy story was added, that deprived the picture of its depth and rich range of references. After the purchase, the Metropolitan Museum changed the title to the Rape of Tamar (a little-known biblical scene), and the artist to Eustache Le Sueur (a student of Vouet). According to the new dating by the museum, the picture was not painted until 1640, two years after the death of Virginia Vezzi, who had posed for Lucrece several times.

The hasty change of title and artist name in a painting of questionable origin may have worked in the 1980s, but at the end of the 1990s came the Washington Agreement, in which countries committed themselves to transparency and research. New interest in anonymous cases slowly grew year by year. Jane Wrightman published her book The Wrightman Pictures in 2005, in which she recalls the original title of the picture, Tarquin and Lucrece from the circle of Vouet, mentions the questionable circumstances of the auction at Christie’s and reveals doubts about the new classification. The scene with the knife, which is depicted in the painting, is not included in the biblical story of Tamar (as Jane Wrightman admitted in 2005), but is a central element of Tarquin and Lucrece’s action.

The Metropolitan Museum says that the presence of the female servant indicates that it is not Tarquin and Lucrece. However, the depictions of this subject can vary on this point, and the female servant is not part of the Bible story of Tamar either.

The Story of Tamar

In the biblical story, Tamar’s brother Amnon pretends to be ill in order to seduce her, and the subject typically depicts the brother lying in bed, pretending to be sick, while scheming to pull his sister into bed when she brings food. Below are some typical depictions:

Tamar und Amnon by Jan Havicksz 1668-1670
Tamar und Amnon von Cerrini (1609-1681)

There is no dagger to be seen here, nor are there any relevant comparative examples in which the history of Tamar would be depicted in this way. Nevertheless, the Met attempts to find an indication of the Tamar story in the props like the chalice, which could be connected to the meal Tamar prepares for her brother. But neither plates nor food are to be seen in Vouet’s painting, and Amnon is not lying in bed sick. The goblet is emptied and tipped over wine vessels that stand for the intoxication of the raging Tarquin (Vouet used the same jugs as a symbol of intoxication in Lot and his Daughters). Lucrece is said to have resisted the vices of her surroundings while her sisters-in-law took part in the banquets. The chalice is also found in other representations of Tarquin and Lucrece (see below). Additionally there is a maid in the background, who (as in Vouet’s painting), raises her arms as she witnesses the event:

Tarquin and Lucrece, 1575 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The dagger is a key element of the subject of Tarquin and Lucrece and is completely unusual for the history of Tamar. For the first classification there are clear examples in art history, which Jayne Wrightman partly also names. The basic compositional structure of Vouet’s work is clearly based on models (Titian and others), in some cases right down to the position and arrangement of the figures. 

Titian and Vouet in Comparison: Tarquin and Lucrece

Titian, Tarquin and Lucrece 1568-1571 (left) wiki pd, version of studio Vouet (right) pd

In her book, Jane Wrightman describes how the museum changes the title and even the artist’s name shortly after the purchase, claiming to have recognized early on that it was not a work by Vouet but of his student Eustache Le Sueur. Here, too, the museum finds itself in obvious need of an explanation. In order to explain the strong proximity to Vouet’s style, it’s assumed that his student Le Sueur was in an early phase when he was working at the Studio Vouet. So once again it’s Studio Vouet, under his direction, partly or entirely conceived and designed by Vouet himself; the possible workshare of his students is difficult to determine. 

Eustache Le Sueur painted pleasing allegories and history paintings. His works, especially his female figures, lacked any psychological depth. Nothing was further from his mind than subjects like Lucrece, Judith, Magdalena, which had strong roots in the early days of Vouet in Rome, and which the Caravaggio successors treated with so much interest in the context of the psychological drama of the individual. Le Sueur never was in Rome; he always worked for the ancien regime. Below a typical work by Eustache Le Sueur:

Clio, Euterpe and Thalia, 1652-55, Eustache Le Sueur, wiki pd

Le Sueur’s compositions lack the energetic dynamic of Vouet, as Jane Wrightman also notes. Wrightman recognizes the typical compositional signature of Vouet in the picture that Christie’s auctioned off as Tarquin and Lucrece. Wrightman therefore assumes the painting came from an early phase of Le Sueur while he was still working in Vouet’s Studio.

The following comparison might shed light on the relationship of the student Le Sueur and his master Vouet. Le Sueur is ascribed the picture below, a passive Ariadne, with only her hair in active motion, without any relation to body movement:

image detail of Ariadne from Bacchus and Ariadne, 1640, Eustache de Sueur, studio Vouet, wiki pd

It seems obvious that this detail in Le Sueur’s painting of Ariadne has been taken from the model of Tarquin and Lucrece, from the blue hair ribbon to the almost sketchy brushstrokes of the free-flowing hair. Only in Tarquin and Lucrece is the moving hair entirely due to the movement of the figure. One recognizes here the coherent dynamic handwriting, all of a piece, which also makes up Vouet’s drawings and compositional sketches. His Lucrece shows a stronger physicality with the modelling through deep shadow areas, which suggests a reverberation of Vouet’s roots in chiaroscuro. 

image detail of Ariadne from Bacchus and Ariadne, 1640, Eustache de Sueur, studio Vouet, wiki pd and image detail "Tarquin and Lucrece by Studio Vouet, wiki pd

Vouet’s studio had reached a certain level of production volume in the 1630s and 40s, with many students and assistants—all of which can make it difficult to clarify exactly who was involved in individual works. Le Sueur’s involvement is certainly possible. Vouet’s studio had long since become an “art factory.” The multitude of tasks regarding the decoration of the royal palaces and other clients of the court required a studio with a large number of staff to assist. According to the taste of the time, the French court demanded rather “pleasing” art. Women’s roles became more clichéd and faces more schematic, especially in works from the hands of his students such as Le Sueur, but sometimes also in the works of Vouet himself.

Tarquin and Lucrece still stands out in its quality, but the painting is not free of these influences. Nevertheless, it remains a work on a theme with deep roots in Vouet’s biography, with a staging force that gives narrative power to a legend with a long historical resonance, an important work that was created in terms of the choice of themes and dynamic composition, if not directly and exclusively by Vouet, then still under his direction of his studio, with his selection of subject, and his compositional drawing.

From Ancient Times to the French Revolution

 

Tarquin wears an ephaptis in Vouet’s painting, as is often found in depictions of warriors in Ancient Roman and Greek legends, for example Achilles on a Sarcophagus from 240 AD—held in the Louvre, where Vouet could have seen him.

 

The Met claims there is a document from an auction in 1785 mentioning the painting, and describing a soldier in the picture. Once again, there is no soldier in the legend of Tamar.

Achilles am Hof des Lykomedes, Louvre, c Paris, ca 240 n.Chr. Marmor, Rom, Werkstatt Athen

See also Jacques-Louis David’s depiction of the warriors of 1799, in a legend that also takes place in the mythical prehistory of the Roman Republic:

The intervention of the Sabine women, 1799, David, pd, wiki

In the French Revolution, the legend of Tarquin and Lucrece was in fashion again. No wonder we find Vouet’s painting in another auction again 1793, as Graham Bowley from New York Times found out and shared with Time Echo – 1793 was  the year the king went to the guillotine. King Louis XVI was compared with Tarquin at the time of his trial. With the rise of the Republic, equal civil rights for all was the promise of the time. In the year 1791, Jews gained equal civil rights in France for the first time in a European country. The painting Tarquin and Lucrece had a special meaning for its previous owners, who were deprived of their property in Germany in 1933.

The Met should take action for restitution of the painting immediately – this moment represents an opportunity for the Met to permit Vouet’s masterpiece to shine in its original context, and explore the truth about its past as Nazi-looted art. It’s the story of tyranny and resistance in Tarquin and Lucrece that had such special meaning for its previous owners, victims of dictatorship, before the painting was taken away from them under Hitler’s regime, and then remained hidden after the war for decades, until the Jewish owners died 1978. This true story should make the painting even more valuable than it already is, and represents a call to act on its values of freedom, truth, and transparency. Lucrece was a whistleblower in her own time, triggering the revolution , the overthrow of the tyrant and rise of the era of the Roman Republic, by going public about the rape she had to suffer and the abuse of power she had to witness.

 

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Auszug aus den Quellen / Sources

New York Times, 8 Feb. 2020, The mystery of the painting in gallery 634 by Graham Bowley

 

Gerichtsakten zum Fall Siegfried Aram in den Landesarchiven mit Kommentierung:

Landgericht Freiburg, Restitutionsverfahren 1959-1963 F 166/3 Nr. 3821 im Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Das erste Dokument aus den bislang zugänglichen Gerichtsakten stammt vom Dezember 1959, das letzte vom Frühjahr 1963. Da sich die Prozesse bereits seit 1949 hinzogen, wie aus den Angaben zur Laufzeit des Falls im Landesarchiv hervorgeht, wird der Prozessverlauf vor 1959 bislang aus den Verweisen in den Akten seit 1959 rekonstruiert.

Ausschnitt Akte Siegfried Aram 1959-1963 Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Briefe von Siegfried Aram an Hans Franke 1962-63

________________________

Gezückte Messer im Schwarzwald

aus einem Brief von Siegfried Aram vom 20.8.1962

„Im Jahre 1931 war ich mit einem Gast, den Doktor Ruedenberg aus Krefeld zu einer Bauernhochzeit in der Umgebung von Schapbach. Man wird dort eingeladen und jeder Gast zahlt für sich selber, aber man sieht die Volkstrachten. Die Nazis aber waren wieder selbstbewusst: ein ganzer Tisch voller junger Krakehler saß dort und stieß an: „Sieg Heil!“.  Zu meinem Entsetzen sah ich, dass sie von einem früheren Studenten namens Lanz [] geführt wurden, den mir  Polizeiwehrdirektor Hahn ein Jahrzehnt zuvor in Stuttgart als den bezeichnet hatte, der meine Umlegung  [sprich Ermordung] befürwortete [Aram flüchtete damals für einige Zeit in die Schweiz].
Es dauerte nicht lange, bis einer der Rüpel an meinen Tisch kam und mir eine Zigarette Marke ‘Trommler‘ anbot. Ich wollte zugreifen, aber er schlug mir auf die Hand und schrie: „ein Jude raucht diese Sorte nicht!“ (Es waren, wie ich hörte, nationalsozialistische Zigaretten).
Ich wollte ihm eine Ohrfeige verabreichen, aber Ruedenberg und der Chauffeur rissen mich weg. Der Nazi-Tisch war aufgestanden, zum Teil mit Messern in der Hand, aber ein Tisch mit Schapbacher Bauern stand auch auf, um mich zu beschützen. Ruedenberg drängte, wegzufahren, was ich auch tat. Aber nach kurzer Zeit erhielt ich aus Wolfach einen Brief, unterzeichnet „Teut“, in welchem man mich beschimpfte, ich habe eine christliche Kirche in deutschem Land missbraucht, um Alljuden[?]-Propaganda zu treiben. Ich habe den nordischen Arier Jesus als Juden kennzeichnen wollen (und anderen Wahnsinn mehr) auch habe ich Wolfacher Fasnachtsmasken mit den Masken minderwertige Rassen zusammengehängt, um meine Verachtung echter, alter deutscher Volkskunst zu zeigen. Man riet mir, von Schapbach fern zu bleiben. („Judenschwein, du hast Ortsverbot!“)
Ich hörte später, irgendein junger Schullehrer sei der Verfasser gewesen, aber 1932 schon schrieb mir jemand, das Dorf, insbesondere die Dorfjugend, sei nun voll von Judenhass. Ein Streicherbuch wurde dort vertrieben und der Stürmer etc.

1932 Uhr war ich nur ein paar Tage dort. Aber man spannte mir ein Drahtseil über den Weg, den der Chauffeur noch rechtzeitig bemerkte. Ich erstattete keine Anzeige.
Das Schlössle wurde dann 1933 vor der Abreise meine Mutter verkauft oder besser verschleudert. Und der neue Eigentümer, ein Herr Sommer aus Trier bedrohte meine Mutter auf Briefbögen als Vorsitzender eines nationalsozialistischen Verbandes und erpresste nicht verkaufte Gegenstände im ausgewiesenen Wert von 16.000 $ (Sie waren bereits [an einen Kunden in den USA] verkauft). Nun, im Vergleichswege erhielt ich vor einigen Jahren 30.000 DM von denen 12.000 für Anwaltskosten abgingen. Vielleicht hätte ich den Restitutionsprozess gewonnen, aber ich hatte kein Geld… für Anwaltsvorschüsse und der Streitwert war hoch.“

Konsul Oskar Sommer

Zu Oskar Sommer und der Arisierung eines Geschäftshauses von Moritz Feidt in Berlin 1937 siehe Artikel zur Gedenktafel, Dokumentation erstellt von der  „Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand“ und des Vereins „Aktives Museum Faschismus und Widerstand in Berlin e.V. „in Zusammenarbeit mit Holger Hübner Zitat: Moritz Feidt begründete hier das erste mehrstöckige Warenhaus in Steglitz. 1937 wurde das Kaufhaus, das nach dem Tode seines Besitzers von der Witwe und seinem Sohn weitergeführt wurde, „arisiert“ und zum „Textilhaus Oskar Sommer“.

Zur Rolle der Handelskammern in der Arisierung im III. Reich siehe auch Thomas Roth, Kapitel Rheinische Geschichte, 1933-1945 Nationalsozialismus und zweiter Weltkrieg, Kapitel Wirtschafts- und Sozialpolitik, siehe  hier

Weitere biographische Daten zu Oskar Sommer (so zur Nachkriegskarriere u.a. als Beirat der Landeszentralbank Rheinland Pfalz  und Konsul von Panama) siehe hier in der rehinlandpfälzischen Personendatenbank,  Impressum Landesbibliothekszentrum
Rheinische Landesbibliothek Zentralredaktion RPB. In dieser Biographie wird ein Text der Nachfahren von Oskar Sommer übernommen, die heute noch das Handeshaus Hochstetter leiten, daher fehlen hier kritische Themen wie die Arisierungen. Schlußzitat aus der Biographie : ” Das Geschäft wird heute bereits in der dritten und vierten Familiengeneration weitergeführt. [Daten übernommen aus: Monika Louisoder, in: Monz, Heinz (Hrsg.): Trierer Biographisches Lexikon. – Trier : Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2000. – ISBN 3-88476-400-4]

Monika Lousidor ist Geschäftsführerin des Handeshauses Hochstetter / Erben Sommer GmbH  (siehe Impressum Hochstetter) 

Zu Arisierungen in Trier siehe auch Interview mit der Historikerin Jutta Albrecht in “16 vor“ Trierer Stadtmagazin, „Staatlich legalisierter Raub“, 18.12.2014. Die Firma Hofstetter (von Oskar Sommer) annoncierte bereits früh in der nationalsozialistischen Tageszeitung von Trier ihre „deutschen“ Produkte.

Tarquinius und Lucretia bei Christie’s und Metropolitan Museum

siehe

The Wrightman Pictures, Jayne Wrightman, 2005, New York, Metropolitan Museum

Beschreibung der Versteigerung bei Christie’s  1983 als “Tarquin and Lucretria from the circle of Vouet”, Christie’s und kunsthistorische Kommentare, die das Werk dem Schüler von Simon Vouet, Eustache Le Sueur in seiner frühen Zeit im Studio Vouet zuschreibt.

Der Text  versucht darzustellen, wie beide Sujets (Lucretia und Tarquinius ebenso wie die bliblische Geschichte der Tamar) zutreffen können, legt jedoch keine stichhaltigen Argumente für die Geschichte der Tamar vor.

 Das Werk befindet sich heute unter dem Titel„the  Rape of Tamar“ von Eustache Le Sueur in der Gallery 634, 5th Ave, Metropolitan Museum New York, Infos der Met zum Bild hier

Angaben zur Provenienz im Buch “The Wrightman Pictures”: Nourri, Paris, February 24. 1785, lot 104, as by Eustache Le Sueur “fait dans l’école de Vouet… une composition de trois figures dans un intérieur enrichi d’architecture; l’on voit sur le devant une femme assise à qui und soldat presente un coupe d’une main, e tient de l’autre un poignard; 71 puces de haut sur 57 puces 6 lignes de large” [76 x 61 in. (193 x 154.9 cm)]; for 400 livres [Fr.396 ] to Folliot); private collection (untill 1983; sale, Christie’s, London, December 2, 1983, lot 45, as “Tarquin and Lucretia” from the circle of Simon Vouet; fot £ 108.000 to Stair Sainty Matthiesen)

Die Académie de Saint-Luc als Rivalin der Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture,Gudrun Valerius,Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte,73. Bd., H. 1 (2010), pp. 115-126

Vouet – Jaques Thuillier, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais Paris , 1990 Paris, editions de la Réunion des  musées nationaux

Simon Vouet, 100 neuentdeckte Zeichnungen, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung Bayrische Staatsbibliothek, München 1991

entrance hall Metropolitan Museum NY, wiki, CC BY SA 3.0