Madame Camus at the Piano

Painted around 1869 by Edgar Degas. Stolen from the Jewish collector Alphonse Kann in 1941.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the painting Madame Camus at the Piano belonged to the Jewish collector Alphonse Kann. He himself managed to escape from Paris to London before the Nazi invasion. However, his entire collection, which comprised well over a thousand works, was confiscated by the «Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg».1 Afterwards, this painting travelled an adventurous path and passed through the hands of, among others, Herman Göring and Hans Wendland, an art dealer known for his trade in looted art. Wendland was given the nickname «King of the Art Market» by none other than Andreas Hofer – the director and head of purchases for Göring’s art collection.2 At the end of this inglorious list, since 1942, is the final buyer: Bührle.

«Emil Bührle bought the Portrait of Madame Camus for the first time in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, from the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne. At the end of the war, he had to acknowledge that it had been stolen in occupied Paris from its Jewish owner, Alphonse Kann, who was now reclaiming it.»3

This is how the audio guide in the Kunsthaus describes how a seemingly unsuspecting and gullible Bührle suddenly had to «take note» of all sorts of things after the war. For he professed not to have known anything about expropriation, persecution, forced sales and losses on the run.

It is documented that Hans Wendland and the Lucerne gallery owner Theodor Fischer, from whom Bührle bought this and other looted works during the war, knew about the painting’s origin.4 But Bührle the buyer - the last and decisive link in this chain wanted to be the only one who «had to take note» of all this only afterwards. In court, Bührle protested his ignorance.

«When I first met Fischer, I nevertheless asked him where he had actually got the pictures from. In accordance with the aforementioned customs, Fischer behaved in an extremely reserved manner. To my recollection, he made a hint that pointed to unoccupied France.»5

Finally, Bührle also had to take note of the Federal Court’s ruling in 1948 that obliged him to return a total of 13 works. Generally, Bührle tried to buy the paintings again, this time from their rightful owners. This is also what happened in 1951 with the painting Madame Camus at the Piano.

Since the individual changes of hands are known, the Kunsthaus proudly declares the provenance of this painting being «unproblematic»6. But considering the events of the time, the question arises as to whether a «unproblematic» provenance should not investigate in more detail the circumstances of the time. Just imagine: Bührle approaches the heirs of the persecuted Alphonse Kann in 1951. His pockets were filled with the fat profits from the sale of weapons to the Third Reich. With this money, he buys, of all things, the painting that was once stolen by the Nazis. Why? Can he not let the decision of the Federal Supreme Court stand? How does this transaction feel for the formerly persecuted? Depending on whose perspective we consider relevant, nothing seems «completely clarified»; new gaps open up.

On the backside of this painting the stamp «ERR» is still emblazoned. These letters stand for «Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg» – that is, the authority that confiscated the art works stolen from Jewish people in occupied France, subsequently distributed them and turned them into money.7 Bührle conveniently overlooked this seal in 1942. What does it say about us if we do the same to this day?


1.  Buomberger 1998, p. 37.
2. Buomberger 1998, p. 71.
3. Emil Bührle Collection.

4. The Swiss historian Thomas Buomberger already pointed out the arrangements between Theodor Fischer and Hans Wendland before the trial in the late 1990s. At these meetings Wendland said: «It is futile, for example, to claim that we did not know that Hofer had the pictures [...] from Göring.» (Buomberger 1998, p. 145)

5. Schweizerisches Bundesgericht 1950, p. 8.
6. Gloor 2023, p. 14.
7. Buomberger/Magnaguagno 2015, p. 119.


Emil Bührle Collection, Edgar Degas, Madame Camus at the Piano (accessed on May 8th 2023).

Buomberger 1998
Thomas Buomberger, Raubkunst – Kunstraub. Die Schweiz und der Handel mit gestohlenen Kulturgütern zur Zeit des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Zürich 1998.

Buomberger/Magnaguagno 2015
Thomas Buomberger, Guido Magnaguagno, Schwarzbuch Bührle. Raubkunst für das Kunsthaus Zürich?, Zürich 2015.

Emil Bührle Collection
Emil Bührle Collection, Audioguide Nr. 266 (accessed on May 8th 2023).

Gloor 2023
Lukas Gloor, Provenance Research by the Emil Bührle Collection, Zurich, 2002–2021, 2023 (accessed on May 8th 2023).

Schweizerisches Bundesgericht 1950
Schweizerisches Bundesgericht, Raubgutsachen Bührle / Dr. Raeber / Fischer / Eidgenossenschaft. Verhandlung vom 18./19. Dezember 1950 im Obergerichtsgebäude Bern (accessed on May 8th 2023).