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Art note: the provenance of Cranach's 'Cupid complaining to Venus'.

The Elder Lucas Cranach's painting of Cupid, stung by bees whilst stealing a honey comb, and complaining to Venus, was painted in about 1526 and is signed with his batwinged serpent. It was bought by the London National Gallery in 1963. I wrote to Michael Levey, the gallery's expert on German painting, in preparation for a notice, 'A New Cranach at the National Gallery', which appeared in the Contemporary Review in May, 1964. The only information Sir Michael was able to give me was that it had been recently purchased from a New York art-dealer. I later learned that the dealer was Silbermann (no longer in business) and the price [pounds sterling]134,000.

According to the revised second edition (London, 1978) of Friedlander and Rosenberg's monumental catalogue of Cranach's paintings (first published in Berlin, 1932) thirty versions of Venus and Cupid were produced by Cranach and his Studio. The version in the National Gallery is indubitably from the hand of the master himself, and one of the best at that. It is likely to be FR no. 246L, listed but not illustrated, sold in Berlin by auction in 1909 from the Emil Goldschmidt Collection, Frankfurt am Main (buyer unknown). It may be noteworthy that Cranach's painting of Venus without Cupid (FR no. 246P) was seized from the Weimar Schlossmuseum and given to Adolf Hitler as a birthday present in 1939.

The National Gallery Venus and Cupid reappeared when, towards the end of the Third Reich, it was found by American soldiers in a German wartime shelter for works of art, which were removed to a warehouse in South Germany. There it was shown to Patricia Hartwell, a war-correspondent for Colliers Weekly and Women's Home Companion.

According to The Guardian newspaper (28 March 2008) Hartwell was, shamefully, given the picture as a reward for her reportage by the local Commander, who had no entitlement to the picture or its disposal. She took it back to America. In 1961, having failed to persuade the Metropolitan Museum in New York (which rightly had its suspicions) to buy the picture, she sold it to Messrs Silbermann. Having been told that the picture had remained with the same family since 1909, the London National Gallery bought it in all innocence from Silbermann.

Unknowingly, all these people were dealing with a picture likely to have been possessed by Adolf Hitler; apparently collected for his megalomaniac monument to himself, a combined planetarium and art-gallery, which he intended to erect at Linz, near his birthplace in Austria. Always banal in his tastes, he would not himself have coveted a recondite mythology with a Latin inscription. The pictures he personally relished were populist fancies by Carl Spitzweg and other Biedermeier painters.

The National Gallery has accepted the claim by Dr Birgit Schwartz, a researcher working on Hitler's book-collection, now in the Library of Congress in Washington, that she has found a photograph of the gallery's Venus and Cupid in an album, purportedly a record of his private picture-collection. There are objections to her surmise, but the National Gallery has so for accepted it. Honourably, the Libraries and Archives Department of the gallery is seeking information either by letter or by email [lad@ng-london.org.uk] about past ownership of the painting.
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Title Annotation:Lucas Cranach
Author:Bruce, Donald
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Words:543
Previous Article:Cinema history in The National Archives.
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