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Eberhard Kornfeld, Art Dealer, Collector and Historian, Is Dead at 99

Eberhard Kornfeld, Art Dealer, Collector and Historian, Is Dead at 99


For greater than a half-century, Eberhard Kornfeld, a famend artwork auctioneer, vendor, collector and scholar, presided over an annual June public sale underneath a tent adjoining his Galerie Kornfeld, which made its residence in a grand Nineteenth-century mansion in Bern, Switzerland.

A two-day occasion, the public sale was a excessive level of the Swiss social season, at which Mr. Kornfeld — Ebi to virtually everybody who knew him — sometimes offered tens of millions of {dollars} of works by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and different outdated masters, together with these by more moderen artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

Besides being an astute salesman, Mr. Kornfeld was a famous artwork historian and the creator of heralded monographs, together with a definitive 1979 examine of the German Expressionist Kirchner.

“That’s what makes him such a seminal and distinctive determine within the artwork world,” Klaus Albrecht Schröder, the director common of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, stated in an interview in 2010. Mr. Kornfeld’s ardour for Kirchner led him to buy the artist’s residence in Davos, Switzerland, and restore it as a museum containing an enormous archive of Kirchner letters and works.

Mr. Kornfeld loved intense relationships with dwelling artists, whose works he collected and offered. His Swiss compatriot, Alberto Giacometti, drew a number of portraits of Mr. Kornfeld and pleaded with him to jot down a complete monograph about him. Mr. Kornfeld lastly did in order a co-author in 2010, lengthy after the artist died.

Mr. Kornfeld himself died on April 13, 2023, at his residence, on the outskirts of Bern, the nation’s capital. His gallery introduced his dying quickly after, but it surely was not broadly reported and solely lately got here to the eye of The New York Times. He was 99.

Because of Mr. Kornfeld’s lengthy friendship with Chagall, the property of the artist’s daughter, Ida Chagall, turned over 42 Chagall work to Galerie Kornfeld on the market in 2006 as an alternative of providing them to bigger public sale homes like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. And the American painter Sam Francis lived and labored at Mr. Kornfeld’s residence for months at a time.

Mr. Kornfeld was additionally a defendant in decades-long litigation introduced by the heirs of a preferred Viennese cabaret performer, Fritz Grünbaum, whose massive assortment was inventoried by Nazi brokers in 1938 after he was despatched to the Dachau focus camp, the place he died three years later. It stays unclear how most of the greater than 400 artworks within the assortment have been confiscated by the Nazis and what number of might need been spirited out of Austria to Grünbaum relations in Belgium and Britain.

In 1956, 63 works by the Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele from the Grünbaum assortment have been put up on the market by Mr. Kornfeld. In the following authorized battles over the provenance of these works, Mr. Kornfeld in 1998 produced what he stated have been letters and receipts documenting his buy of the Schiele works from Mathilde Lukacs-Herzl, a sister-in-law of Mr. Grünbaum’s who had managed to flee the Nazis.

She died twenty years earlier than Mr. Kornfeld disclosed his documentation for the Schieles. The Grünbaum heirs insisted that the paperwork have been forgeries and that the artworks had been looted by the Nazis.

In 2011, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York reached a judgment on one of many works in query — Schiele’s 1917 drawing “Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso)” — that exonerated Mr. Kornfeld and declared that he had exercised ample due diligence in buying the work.

But in 2018, a New York State Supreme Court judge, Charles J. Ramos, dominated in favor of the Grünbaum heirs in a separate case involving two different Schiele works that had been offered by Mr. Kornfeld and ended up with a London vendor, Richard Nagy. The judge forged doubt on Mr. Kornfeld’s documentation and ordered Mr. Nagy to show over to the heirs the 2 work in query: Woman in a Black Pinafore” (1911) and “Woman Hiding Her Face” (1912). In July 2019, a New York appellate courtroom upheld Judge Ramos’s ruling.

The ruling didn’t mark the tip of litigation involving the Grünbaum assortment. Several sellers who personal most of the Schieles offered by Mr. Kornfeld insisted that the works weren’t stolen, and so they acquired the help of the German Lost Art Foundation. The basis, which operates an enormous database of artwork prone to have been stolen by the Nazis, has been applauded for aiding the return of works looted from Holocaust victims to their rightful house owners.

A Schiele can go for as a lot as $40 million, the value paid at public sale in 2011 for the 1914 portray Houses With Colorful Laundry (Suburb II).” (That portray, an city panorama, just isn’t among the many works linked to Mr. Kornfeld.)

Over the final dozen years the Grünbaum heirs have recovered numerous Schiele works offered by Mr. Kornfeld to museums, artwork sellers and collectors.

Mr. Kornfeld was born on Sept. 23, 1923, in Basel. He developed a watch for artwork underneath his father, a profitable inside designer.

He was an adolescent when he started his lengthy profession as a collector by gathering Neolithic stone instruments and fragments of historical Roman bronze artifacts discovered at archaeological digs close to Basel. He studied archaeology on the University of Basel however dropped out to serve within the Swiss Army throughout World War II as impartial Switzerland girded for a attainable German invasion, which by no means occurred.

After the battle, Mr. Kornfeld turned an apprentice at Gutekunst und Klipstein, a well known German public sale home that had relocated to Bern. Because it had a robust repute in outdated masters, he spent summers finding out within the Renaissance and Baroque drawings and prints departments at museums in Amsterdam, Paris and London. “I regarded on the Rembrandt etchings till I knew each element about them,” he stated in an interview for this obituary in 2010.

He was quickly promoted to junior companion, and when the proprietor, August Klipstein, died in 1951, Mr. Kornfeld took over the public sale home and ultimately purchased out the Klipstein heirs.

All the whereas he constructed a repute for an virtually unerring eye in his drawing and print specialties, permitting him to cost premium costs. “Whatever passes via his arms is nearly by no means questioned,” stated Paul Hahnloser, a Zurich collector.

Besides overseeing his public sale home and gallery, Mr. Kornfeld helped museums in Switzerland and different European nations stage main exhibits of drawings and etchings.

The Kornfeld residence, a former Fifteenth-century manor home with a splendid view of the Alps, was a veritable museum. Its three flooring have been cluttered with works by Francis, Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. Etchings and engravings by Rembrandt and Dürer and drawings by Kirchner and Klee crammed drawers. Stacked in opposition to the partitions by the dozen have been framed Giacomettis and Schieles that Mr. Kornfeld typically contemplated, one after one other, whereas sitting in his favourite simple chair.

In 2006, he donated his complete Rembrandt assortment, together with greater than 100 etchings, to the Kunstmuseum Basel, shortly after it staged an exhibition of the works. But he continued to purchase extra Rembrandt etchings.

From a drawer in his home, he retrieved for a customer in 2010 a number of of these current acquisitions, together with “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” Christ Preaching” (higher often called “The Hundred Guilder Print”) and Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves” (also referred to as The Three Crosses”).

“I simply didn’t wish to stay with out them,” he defined.

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