They say that the wheels of justice move slowly and that certainly applies to the case of a painting by the German 19th century artist Carl Spitzweg, which was the star of the sale of Fine Art and Antiques held by Neumeister (27% buyer’s premium) in Munich on May 6.
Spitzweg’s often subtly satirical works captured the quintessence of the Biedermeier era and the 19 x 11in (49 x 27cm) oil on canvas Das Auge des Gesetzes, Justitia (The Eye of the Law, Justitia), a late work from 1857, was no exception.
The painting had a very varied provenance: having belonged to the Von Lanna collection in Prague in c.1906, it was acquired by the Berlin collector Leo Bendel, who was forced by circumstances to sell it to a dealer in 1937.
A year later, it changed hands again and was destined for Hitler’s Führer-Museum in Linz, which was, however, never built. In 1939, Bendel was arrested and sent to Buchenwald, where he died suddenly in 1940.
After the war, Justitia passed through the central Collecting Point in Munich and later came into possession of the Bavarian prime minister and from 1961 until last year it hung in the office of the German president in Bonn and later in Berlin.
After the publication of a book about looted art, with a picture of Justitia on the cover, in 2006, there was no doubt about the true ownership of the painting.
Nonetheless, it took until 2019 before it was finally returned to the descendants of Leo Bendel, who consigned it to Neumeister. A German collector secured it for a mid-estimate €550,000 (£482,455).
Apart from Justitia, seven other Spitzweg paintings featured in the sale, all of which went to German collectors for prices between €11,000 (£9650) and €50,000 (£43,860), often going way above the estimates.
Worthy of note in the general paintings section was the 15 x 22in (38 x 55cm) oil on panel Soldiers Resting near a Country Hut by Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski, a Polish artist who spent most of his working life in Munich.
A Polish collector saw off his international competitors with his winning bid of €90,000 (£78,950), three times the lower estimate.
German auction houses open their doors
Some days before the sale Neumeister owner, auctioneer Katrin Stoll, applied to the Bavarian administrative court to attain legal clarification as to whether live auctions with a limited number of bidders could be held or not, given the confusion over some aspects of the restrictions imposed by the Bavarian government to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
One day before the sale, the local authorities gave their permission. Auction houses were classified in the same categories as shops, which had already been allowed to reopen.
£1 = €1.14