Michele Marieschi at Sothebys
‘La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore’ by Michele Marieschi, which will be offered at Sotheby’s Old Master sale in London in July with estimate of £500,000-700,000. Its appearance at auction follows an agreement over a longstanding restitution claim.

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After 15 years, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family, who had acquired La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore in 1937, and the estate of the late owner who had kept it for 60 years has finally been facilitated by Art Recovery International. It will now be offered at a London evening auction on July 5 with an estimate of £500,000-700,000.

The painting from 1739-40 was originally acquired by Jewish collectors Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf and was kept in the living room of their Vienna apartment. They were forced to flee their home after the German annexation of Austria, eventually ending up in the US, having placed their art and other possessions in storage in Vienna.

It later came to light that their items had been confiscated by the Gestapo in November 1940 and subsequently sold at auction, including the Marieschi painting and portraits of Anna Maria’s parents by Umberto Veruda,.

Re-Surfacing

The exact whereabouts of the Marieschi for the next 12 years have not been traced, but it is now known that it was acquired by London Old Master dealer Edward Speelman in 1952 from an auction where the consigner was a lesser-known dealer, Henry James Alfred Spiller.

Unaware of the painting’s history, Speelman then sold the painting to a buyer from Shropshire who later moved to Monaco.

In the late 1990s, the heirs of Graf family, who had long made attempts to trace the picture, were able to discover its location after it emerged that Christie’s knew of its whereabouts. The auction house initially said it could not disclose the name of the owner to the heirs under client confidentiality but was eventually forced to release the name of the owner after an injunction was issued by a British judge.

Michele Marieschi painting of Venice

Christopher Marinello of Art Recovery International (left) with Stephen Tauber, the son-in-law of Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf, from whom the Michele Marieschi painting was seized by the Nazis, along with his son Andrew Tauber.

After attempts to negotiate with the owner were rebuffed, the heirs entered into protracted legal proceedings to try to recover the work.

A lengthy impasse that ensued was eventually broken when, following the death of the owner in 2013, the painting became the property of a trust based in Monaco. In 2015, the decision was made to contact the Graf family to resolve all title issues before arranging a sale.

A settlement was eventually reached in December, leading to the subsequent consignment of the work to Sotheby’s, nearly 80 years after Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf last saw the painting.

Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International, said: “I commend the parties involved in this decades-old dispute in reaching an amicable accord. I strongly encourage collectors, dealers, and institutions to bring known or suspected Nazi-looted works out from the shadows and resolve these disputes discreetly without the need for costly and embarrassing litigation. Facing these issues head on takes courage and, in some cases, sacrifice on the part of a good acquirer.  However, leaving these issues for the next generation to deal with is never the answer.”