Ottawa, 20 June 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Debate has arisen regarding the identity of the owner of a watercolour by Cézanne, which has been taken from the collection of a French art dealer.
The scattered belongings of French art dealer and collector Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) include Group of Trees, 1890, a watercolour by Paul Cézanne, which has recently re-surfaced at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The piece undoubtedly made its way to the gallery during the second world war.
The work was part of a lot of 600 artworks, mainly issued from the Vollard Collection, brought from France in 1940 by art dealer Martin Fabiani, notoriously known as a ‘gigolo’ and collaborator to the Nazis. The latter, who was entrusted with the management of Vollard’s estate, took hold of the collection when the owner died in a car accident in 1939. He subsequently sent the works to the United States by boat, but after travelling to Spain and Portugal, the cargo was intercepted by the British Navy and sent to Ottawa. In the meantime, Fabiani, who provided Jewish dealers with works confiscated by the Nazis, was imprisoned. The painting remained in Canada until 1949, when Fabiani, released, attempted to regain the works via a British court. A Parisian judge gave him back ¾ of the seized works, with the rest going to Vollard’s two sisters. Two lawsuits took place in France during the 1950s, when a French court attempted to overturn the verdict, followed by a second case in the 1960s. It appears that all three lawsuits were dismissed.
For now, the problem lies in identifying the current owner of the work, since no complaint has been lodged in the last fifty years. The painting was never exhibited in Canada, and it re-surfaced in an article published in The Ottawa Citizen Newspaper by Ian MacLeod, which detailed its elaborate history.