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Dresden porcelain worth £2m discovered by the Allied ‘Monuments Men’ goes up for sale 

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A £2 million collection of Meissen porcelain seized by the Nazis before being discovered by the Allied ‘Monuments Men’ at the end of the war is up for sale.

The wonderful treasure of antiques from Dresden was acquired in the 1920s and 1930s by the industrialist Dr. Franz Oppenheimer and his wife Margarethe.

The Jewish couple fled their home in Berlin for relative safety as Vienna in 1936 when the Nazis began persecuting Jewish people in Germany.

They eventually emigrated to the US the day before Austria was annexed by Germany, but not before selling their fantastic figurines and ornaments at bargain prices to avoid falling into the hands of the Nazis.

A £2million collection of Meissen porcelain seized by the Nazis before being discovered by the Allied ‘Monuments Men’ at the end of the war is up for sale

The wonderful treasure of antiques from Dresden was acquired in the 1920s and 1930s by the industrialist Dr.  Franz Oppenheimer (bottom row, second right) and his wife Margarethe (bottom row, first left).

The wonderful treasure of antiques from Dresden was acquired in the 1920s and 1930s by the industrialist Dr. Franz Oppenheimer (bottom row, second right) and his wife Margarethe (bottom row, first left).

The collection was eventually found in the Netherlands by a member of the SS who acquired it for Adolf Hitler in 1941.

To prevent millions of pounds of looted artwork from being damaged by Allied bombing, the Nazis stored much of it in salt mines in southern Germany and Austria.

Towards the end of the war, a group of male and female art experts, museum curators and librarians from Britain and America gathered to find and recover Hitler’s stolen art before it could be destroyed by the Germans.

The 2014 war film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon, tells the story of the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program.

The Jewish couple fled their home in Berlin for relative safety as Vienna in 1936 when the Nazis began persecuting Jewish people in Germany.  They eventually emigrated to the US the day before Austria was annexed by Germany, but not before selling their fantastic figurines and ornaments at bargain prices to avoid falling into the hands of the Nazis.

The Jewish couple fled their home in Berlin for relative safety as Vienna in 1936 when the Nazis began persecuting Jewish people in Germany. They eventually emigrated to the US the day before Austria was annexed by Germany, but not before selling their fantastic figurines and ornaments at bargain prices to avoid falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Many of the 117 17th- and 18th-century Meissen pieces collected by the Oppenheimers have been on display in various Dutch museums over the past 60 years, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

In 2015, the descendants of the couple took their case to the Dutch Restitutions Committee, claiming that the collection was rightfully theirs.

In 2019, the commission recommended returning to the family after concluding that the couple “involuntarily lost possession of the objects due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.”

Now their descendants have decided to sell the porcelain at Sotheby’s auction house.

The collection was eventually found in the Netherlands by a member of the SS who acquired it for Adolf Hitler in 1941.  To prevent millions of pounds of looted artwork from being damaged by Allied bombing, the Nazis stored much of it in salt mines across southern Germany and Austria.

The collection was eventually found in the Netherlands by a member of the SS who acquired it for Adolf Hitler in 1941. To prevent millions of pounds of looted artwork from being damaged by Allied bombing, the Nazis stored much of it in salt mines across southern Germany and Austria.

It is considered one of the best collections of early works from what was Europe’s first porcelain factory.

Highlights include a 17-inch high Meissen clock from 1727 featuring Minerva’s figurines with a seated female figure.

It was bought in 1855 by Sir Anthony de Rothschild before being bought by the Oppenheimers in 1923. It is estimated at £300,000.

A pair of 14 inch high Meissen beaker vases decorated with oriental figures and birds and believed to be made for the Japanese palace in about 1733, are valued at £100,000.

Towards the end of the war, a group of male and female art experts, museum curators and librarians from Britain and America gathered to find and recover Hitler's stolen art before it could be destroyed by the Germans.

Towards the end of the war, a group of male and female art experts, museum curators and librarians from Britain and America gathered to find and recover Hitler’s stolen art before it could be destroyed by the Germans.

And an extremely rare pair of hexagonal vases once owned by Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the British envoy to the Saxon court in the mid-18th century.

Lucian Simmons, global head of restitutions at Sotheby’s auction house, said: ‘It is not known exactly how Franz and Margarethe Oppenheimer’s collection went to Fritz Mannheimer. Mannheimer was also prosecuted, but the general principle in restitution cases is that the first victim prevails.

‘After the defeat of the Nazi regime, the collection was discovered by officers of the Allied monuments in a salt mine in Austria, where it had been placed for safety by Hitler’s conservators.

‘The collection was first brought to Munich and then sent to the Netherlands by the Allies. The Dutch government placed it in three museums, including the Rijksmuseum, where it remained until it was returned to Oppenheimer’s heirs.

Many of the 117 17th- and 18th-century Meissen pieces collected by the Oppenheimers have been on display in various Dutch museums over the past 60 years, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Many of the 117 17th- and 18th-century Meissen pieces collected by the Oppenheimers have been on display in various Dutch museums over the past 60 years, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

‘Ninety items were in the Rijksmuseum, 13 in the Kunstmuseum in The Hague and four in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.

‘The Oppenheimer family first applied for a refund in June 2015.

In its advice to the Dutch Restitutions Committee to return the collection to Franz and Margarete Oppenheimer’s heirs, the Dutch Restitutions Committee said that Oppenheimer ‘involuntarily lost possession of these objects due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.

“Their descendants sell the stuff. We cannot comment on their motives, but they are a group of individuals and it is quite common for restituted collections to be sold to convert the legacy into a form that can be more easily distributed among the descendants of a victim of Nazi persecution. ‘

It is considered one of the best collections of early works from what was Europe's first porcelain factory

It is considered one of the best collections of early works from what was Europe’s first porcelain factory

Franz Openheimer was a lawyer and co-owner of a private company that dominated the coal industry in the period before World War II.

By buying at a time when many important pieces were being divested from the Royal Collections in Dresden, he and his wife built up an impressive collection of Meissen.

The sale will take place on September 14 in New York.

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