Nautilus Cup

Painted around 1660 by Willem Kalf. Sold under duress in 1935 by the Jewish entrepreneurial couple Jakob and Rosa Oppenheim.

Although the provenance of Willem Kalf’s Nautilus Cup is considered as «unproblematic»1 by the Kunsthaus, the work requires closer examination. Until 1935, the painting was owned by the Jewish-run Galerie Van Diemen in Berlin, which was dissolved as a result of the occupational bans imposed by the Nazi regime from 1933 onwards. The holdings were forcibly auctioned off by the Paul Graupe auction house.2 The Jewish entrepreneur couple Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, the owners of the gallery, narrowly escaped arrest by fleeing to France at the end of March 1933. While Jakob Oppenheimer died in Nice in 1941, his wife was deported to Auschwitz after the defeat of France and murdered in 1943.3 In 1950, the picture resurfaced with a private collector in Germany. Despite the painting’s supposedly «unproblematic» provenance, it is unclear what route the Nautilus Cup has taken since its forced auction in 1935. What is known is that in 1950 it passed from Kunsthaus Lempertz, which was demonstrably involved in the auctioning of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, to other private collections and finally into Bührle’s hands.4

Today, the painting is registered on the Lost Art Database as Nazi-confiscated property. The authors of this search request: The Oppenheimer community of heirs.5 How does the Kunsthaus react to a search report that was already recorded in 2005? According to the report regarding provenance research, in the case of the Nautilus Cup, «questions regarding the provenance»6 were directed to the Bührle Foundation, whereupon the latter «supplied the information requested and stated its position»7. The last contact took place in 2010. The report is silent about which persons were contacted and what information was given.

The information provided by the foundation is cryptic and leaves one in doubt about this supposed «complete clarity». What there is no doubt about is the position of the foundation: The circumstance that led to the forced sales was not the seizure of power by the National Socialists, but a temporally coinciding recession in Germany caused by the world economic crisis.8 Meaning: Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Instead of presenting a nuanced view, the Shoah is relativised in the Kunsthaus; persecution and expropriation are ignored.9 The case is declared closed. Accordingly, the search request for the Nautilus Cup remains on the Lost Art Database. The attitude of the Foundation and the Kunsthaus is that those persecuted by the Nazis and their heirs should take care of the reappraisal themselves.


1. Gloor 2023, p. 17.
Proveana 2022, n. p.
3. German Lost Art Foundation 2013, n. p.
Proveana 2023, n. p. and Tatzkow 2014, p. 92. In response to a written inquiry to Kunsthaus Lempertz on March 14th 2023, as to who the private collectors were, the Kunsthaus announced that it could not disclose the names of its consignors. The email  is available.
Lost Art Database 2005, n. p. The database was founded against the background of the Washington Principles early 2000 and is maintained by the German Lost Art Foundation. The database documents cultural property that was either demonstrably seized from its owners between 1933 and 1945 due to Nazi persecution or for which such a seizure cannot be ruled out (Lost Art Database, n. p.).
Gloor 2023, p. 9.
Gloor 2023, p. 9.
Gloor 2023, p. 9.
The German art historian Silke Reuther refers to the circumstances of the time as follows: «The circumstances that led to the dissolution of the art trading companies of Margraf & Co. [to which the Van Diemen Gallery belonged] are the subject of research and negotiation. The temporal overlap of a recession in Germany caused by the world economic crisis and the seizure of power by the National Socialists, requires a differentiated and sensitive approach here. In order to clarify the circumstances of the loss, persecution-related and persecution-independent interventions in the corporate structure of Margraf & Co. must be carefully distinguished.» (German Lost Art Foundation 2013, n. p.)


Collection Emil Bührle, Willem Kalf, Nautilus Cup (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Gloor 2023
Lukas Gloor, Report Regarding Provenance Research of the Emil Bührle Collection 2002–2021, 2023 (accessed on June 12th 2023).

German Lost Art Foundation 2013
German Lost Art Foundation, Provenienz Margraf & Co. (Galerie van Diemen, Altkunst, Dr. Otto Burchard), 2013 (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Lost Art Database
Lost Art Database. German Lost Art Foundation, About the Lost Art Database (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Lost Art Database 2005
Lost Art Database. German Lost Art Foundation, Still Life, 2005 (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Proveana 2022
Proveana. Provenance Research Database. German Lost Art Foundation, Galerie van Diemen & Co., Berlin, September 21st 2022 (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Proveana 2023
Proveana. Provenance Research Database. German Lost Art Foundation, Kunsthaus Lempertz, February 20th 2023 (accessed on June 12th 2023).

Tatzkow 2014
Monika Tatzkow, «Walter Westfeld», in: Verlorene Bilder, verlorene Leben. Jüdische Sammler und was aus ihren Kunstwerken wurde, published Monika Tatzkow and Melissa Müller, 2014, p. 86–97.