Marie Laurencin's Portrait of Simone Moreau: The Story of an Artwork's Restitution
Decades after its plunder, Marie Laurencin's portrait of Simone Moreau was reclaimed by the Rosenberg family.
Marie Laurencin painted a portrait of the young woman Simone Moreau in 1939, the same year that World War II launched Europe into a refugee crisis of hitherto unknown proportions. Among those fleeing the war was Marie Laurencin's dealer Paul Rosenberg, who had acquired the portrait only months earlier.
In June of 1940, Rosenberg and his family left Paris, first staying briefly in the south of France before crossing the Atlantic to New York. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis began an exhaustive campaign to confiscate art owned by well-known Jewish dealers and collectors. Sometime between 1940 and 1942, the artworks housed at Paul Rosenberg's home and gallery at 21 Rue de la Boétie in Paris were pillaged by the German occupiers, including Marie Laurencin's portrait of Simone Moreau. Later, 21 Rue de la Boétie, bereft of its art, was transformed by the Vichy government into the headquarters of the anti-semitic Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.
Hundreds of Nazi-plundered artworks have ostensibly disappeared—either stowed away in private collections, or passed from owner to owner via opaque transactions, their whereabouts remaining unknown to this day. This particular painting did not surface on the international art market until 1998, when it slipped through at an auction. The artwork's looted provenance was not discovered until some years later when the estate of the purchaser was appraised. Through an amicable resolution, the Rosenberg family successfully reclaimed Simone Moreau, but many other artworks stolen during Nazi rule have yet to be returned to their rightful heirs.