Venetian masterpiece by Italian artist Michele Marieschi to be offered at Sotheby’s this summer

18th century painting seized by Nazi officials comes to the market following successful restitution settlement

LONDON/VENICE 28 May 2017 – Today, Sotheby’s and Art Recovery International announce the sale of a rare eighteenth century oil painting by Italian artist Michele Marieschi, as part of its flagship London Old Master evening sale on 5 July. La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore, comes to the market following a successful restitution settlement, led by Art Recovery International, between the current possessors and the heirs of the previous owners – the Graf family who last saw the painting in 1938, before they fled Nazi occupied Austria. Following over 15 years of negotiations, the work will be offered this summer with an estimate of £500,000 – 700,000.

The Graf family

Originally acquired by Heinrich (Heinz) and Anna Maria (Anny) Graf in 1937, the painting hung in the the family’s Vienna apartment – a highlight of their small but refined collection. In March 1938, the family’s lives were upended with the German annexation of Austria. Ousted from his job and under threat from the growing tensions under a dictatorial regime, Heinz and his young family were forced to flee their home. In anticipation of the forced emigration, which by then had become so commonplace in Vienna, all of the Graf’s possessions were put into storage, to be forwarded once the family settled into a new home. Having paid the substantial ‘exit tax’ demanded by the Germans, the Grafs made their way first to Italy, and then several months later to France, where they were joined by their two grandmothers in Quillan, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinz was confined to the notorious Camp Gurs in Southwest France – where Jews of non-French nationality were interned. Anny worked desperately to secure her husband’s release (she too was interned for a brief period), finally managing to obtain visas for the United States for all but one member of the family. Required by the terms of his Gurs camp release to leave the country immediately, Heinz was forced to leave his family behind and travel to the safety of Portugal alone. The family eventually reunited in Lisbon months later, sailing together to the United States and reaching New York on 26 May 1941.

Settling in Queens, the family rebuilt their lives, with Heinz, now ‘Henry’, finding employment again as an investment banker. Attempting to recover the belongings that they had placed in storage, Henry and Anny undertook extensive correspondence with the United States occupation forces in Germany, but to no avail. It later came to light that their possessions, including this Marieschi painting and portraits of Anny’s parents by Umberto Veruda, had been seized by the Nazi regime in 1940 and subsequently sold at auction. Despite years of searching, all efforts to locate their possessions failed, with both Henry and Anny passing away without having ever seen their paintings again.

The current Possessor

The exact whereabouts of the painting from 1940 to 1952 is not known. However, in 1952 it was acquired by Edward Speelman who purchased the painting from Henry James Alfred Spiller (1890 – 1966), a frequent purchaser at auction during WWII.

The current possessor bought the painting in 1953, unaware of the painting’s history and has had unbroken enjoyment of the work for more than 60 years. In 2015, the decision was made to reach out to the Graf family to resolve all title issues before moving forward with a sale.

Following the discovery of this painting nearly 15 years ago, and nearly 80 years after Henry and Anny Graf last saw the painting, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family and the current possessors was successfully negotiated by Art Recovery International last December, leading to the subsequent sale of this remarkable work this summer.

The Painting

Painted in 1739 – 40, La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore is a rare example of a unique work by Marieschi, who often created multiple paintings from the same viewpoint. Depicting the Dogana with the Church of San Giorgio across the Bacino in the distance, and animated by a host of colourful figures and gondolas in the foreground, this painting is notable for its broad panorama and the depth of its composition, and is one of Marieschi’s most successful works.  Encouraged by the success of the great Venetian artist Canaletto in the genre of vedute, Marieschi adopted a very personal and instantly recognisable style in the genre, characterised by rapid brushwork, richness of colour, and shimmering effects of light.

Richard Aronowitz, Sotheby’s Head of Department for Restitution, said, “Having followed the story and been involved in the discussions of this marvellous painting for more than a decade, I am delighted that its turbulent history has now been resolved with a settlement between the Graf heirs and the current possessors, and that it will be offered as one of the highlights of Sotheby’s summer sale. Restitution settlements are understandably difficult to resolve, so it is always very rewarding when you are able to help bring a case to a positive conclusion.”

Henry and Anny Graf’s son-in-law, Stephen Tauber, commented wistfully, “Michele Marieschi created this magnificent view of the Dogana to give pleasure. We are sad that Heinz and Anny Graf enjoyed that privilege for just a few months after they had bought the painting with so much anticipation. We are glad, however, that after so many years members of our family are finally able to become reacquainted with the painting, which will surely give pleasure to others for years to come.

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.

Michele Marieschi, La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore, will be offered at Sotheby’s London Old Master Evening Sale on 5 July 2017.

Art Recovery International (“ARI”) specialises in recovering stolen and looted works of art. With over $500M worth of artwork recovered for victims and disputes resolved worldwide, ARI is unique in providing creative solutions to complex art related title disputes. ARI works with law enforcement, dealers, collectors, museums and insurance companies in discreetly mediating and resolving issues without the need for litigation.  ARI works closely with the non-profit and non-conflicted ARTIVE Database ( and encourages theft victims and parties involved in title disputes to record their claims with ARTIVE. ARTIVE is fast becoming the central checkpoint and primary due diligence tool for the protection of cultural heritage. Objects located by the ARTIVE Database can be referred to lawyers, law enforcement, or any number of art recovery specialists or mediators.













St Katharine Cree church delighted at return of decades-lost work, part of a monument to a famous Elizabethan

Carving from St Katharine Cree church’s Sir Nicholas Throckmorton monument.
Carving from St Katharine Cree church’s Sir Nicholas Throckmorton monument. Photograph: St Katharine Cree church 

A historic church in the City of London is to be reunited with a magnificent 16th-century carving that was stolen from it decades ago.

St Katharine Cree church in Leadenhall Street is a survivor of both the Great Fire of 1666 and the second world war blitz, while the 80cm-high alabaster carving was part of a monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a prominent figure in the reign of Elizabeth I, dating from the 1570s. The diplomat was the uncle of Sir Francis Throckmorton, a conspirator in the Throckmorton Plot.

Klaas Muller, an art specialist in Brussels, bought the work in good faith in Belgium last year. He agreed to return it unconditionally after being approached by Christopher A Marinello, a lawyer and director of Art Recovery International, which specialises in the recovery of stolen, missing and disputed cultural property.

The monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton
The monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. Photograph: Phil Manning

Marinello, who acted pro bono for St Katharine Cree, said it was an honour to return a sculpture of such importance to the church.

He said: “As a good faith buyer under Belgian law, Muller could have easily defended his possession of this monument. Instead, he chose to be magnanimous by willingly and enthusiastically returning a work of art that clearly belongs to St Katharine Cree.

“Muller’s actions should teach the trade a thing or two about the possession of stolen and looted works of art. It is not always about protecting profits and it is always the season to do the right thing.”

Phil Manning, a churchwarden at St Katharine Cree, said: “This is an amazing time for this carving to be coming back to the church … The building is on the heritage at risk register and there are significant plans for its restoration over the next few years. The return of a fine piece of carving which belongs on an existing monument of a historically important figure is really quite something.

“It is not only a beautiful object but a gateway to the understanding and interpretation of our heritage.”

With medieval foundations, St Katharine Cree is an important 1630s building with a 16th-century tower. Its imposing Jacobean architecture, including perpendicular vaulting and neoclassical arches, is unique in London. Its original organ was played by Purcell and Handel.

Manning said that the church was consecrated in 1630 by William Laud, the Bishop of London, who was later accused of treason and executed in 1645.

“The way he conducted the consecration service was used in evidence at his trial to suggest that he was actually a Catholic,” said Manning. “The account of the service describes much genuflecting and bowing. On entering the church, he threw dust into the air and declared: ‘This is holy ground.’ His emphasis was on the beauty of holiness, but the zeal with which he sought to reform public worship made him a number of enemies, notably among the Puritans, and this led to his downfall.”

A 1793 engraving and a 1929 photograph show the Throckmorton monument in its complete state. Precisely when the carving disappeared is unclear.

Muller will be out of pocket by thousands of pounds, although he had paid a fraction of the work’s true value. He bought it from a fellow dealer, and said he is hoping for a refund.

Muller was shocked when he first realised that it belonged to the church. He said that, “historically and ethically”, returning it was the right thing to do, adding: “I thought it could be a nice Christmas present.”

The recovery was made possible by Patrick Damiaens, a Belgian ornamental and heraldic woodcarver, who was shown the carving by Muller. Intrigued, Damiaens began researching it, and his detective work established its significance.

The craftsmanship is of such high quality that it may have come from a workshop in Southwark where many Flemish refugees settled in the 16th century.

For Marinello and Manning, history is repeating itself. In 2010, they recovered a 17th-century alabaster bust of Peter Turner, a botanist and physician, that had been stolen from another City of London church, St Olave’s, during the blitz. It too had ended up with a Belgian dealer, who agreed to return it.

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