Young Woman in Oriental Garb

Painted around 1871 by Edouard Manet. Sold under duress by the Jewish entrepreneurs Max and Johanna Silberberg in 1934 or 1935.

In any other museum, the Young Woman in Oriental Garb – or La Sultane – would probably be described as looted art. It belonged to the Jewish entrepreneur Max Silberberg, who was systematically expropriated from 1933 onwards, persecuted and murdered in a concentration camp in 1942. Now there is a demand for restitution, which Max Silberberg’s heirs brought forward in 2002.1 The German Lost Art Foundation reports the work in its database as cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution.2

But what may be considered just and fair elsewhere does not apply to the Bührle Collection at the Kunsthaus. Here, the accepted position is still that there is no connection between Nazi persecution and the sale of this painting.

«Max Silberberg’s intention to sell the painting La Sultane was the result of economic problems dating back to the time before Nazi persecution set in. The later sale of the painting by Max Silberberg took place outside the Nazi sphere of power [...]. The sale of La Sultane by Max Silberberg did not happen as a result of Nazi persecution (NS-verfolgungsbedingter Entzug), nor was it a sale caused by the pressure of Nazi persecution.»3

The entrepreneur Max Silberberg was hit hard by the Great Depression and had to part with significant portions of his art collection in 1932. This circumstance later led to any claim for restitution by his heirs being fundamentally called into question. Finally, it had to be proven that it was not the economic crisis but Nazi persecution that was connected to the sale. The Kunsthaus’ approach to La Sultane is a perfect example of this evasive manoeuvre. For although Max Silberberg was persecuted, expropriated and murdered in Nazi Germany, his property – i.e. the painting – was beyond the reach of the Nazis in Paris, where he tried to sell it. Thus, it could not possibly be looted art. That is why La Sultane remains where it is.

But in fact, the circumstances of the time could also be assessed differently, and what applies at the Kunsthaus fortunately does not apply everywhere. In 1999, Gerta Silberberg, heiress of Max Silberberg, demanded the painting Sewing School in the Amsterdam Orphanage back from the Bündner Kunstmuseum. It was restituted to her after barely a year... Beat Stutzer, the director at the time, wrote in this regard:

«For the Bündner Kunstsammlung Foundation, it was a declared goal from the very beginning to make a decision as quickly and unbureaucratically as possible, as they felt morally obliged to do so. Moreover, in contrast to other museums and private collections that acted rather hesitantly in the matter of looted art, they wanted to set an example after the Washington Conference of 1998.»4

More than 20 years ago, at the Washington Conference mentioned by Beat Stutzer, the most important principles were negotiated on how to in future find fair and just solutions for works of disputed origin.5 While it would seem that Beat Stutzer in Chur would have liked  to believe in a fairer world after the conference, the view towards Zurich shows another reality. With the restitution to Max Silberberg’s heiress, the Bündner Kunstmuseum set an important precedent. Meanwhile, the Bührle Foundation firmly maintains its position: The only perspective that counts, is that of the buyer.


1.  Buomberger/Magnaguagno 2015, p. 118. More information can be found in the book Verlorene Bilder, verlorene Leben by Monika Tatzkow and Melissa Müller.
2. Lost Art Database 2004, 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.).
3. Gloor 2023, p. 3.

4. Stutzer 2014, p. 40.

5. German Lost Art Foundation, n. p.


Emil Bührle Collection, Edouard Manet, Young Woman in Oriental Garb (accessed on June 14th 2023).

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

German Lost Art Foundation
German Lost Art Foundation, «Washington Principles» and «Joint Declaration» (Common Statement) (accessed on June 14th 2023).

Gloor 2023
Lukas Gloor, Provenance Research by the Emil Bührle Collection, Zurich, 2002–2021. Update 2023, 2023 (accessed on June 14th 2023).

Lost Art Database
Lost Art Database. German Lost Art Foundation, About the Lost Art Database (accessed on June 14th 2023).

Lost Art Database 2004
Lost Art Database. German Lost Art Foundation, La Sultane / Lady in an Oriental costume, 2004 (accessed on June 14th 2023).

Stutzer 2014
Beat Stutzer, «Restitution eines Max Liebermann-Gemäldes. Ein Fallbeispiel aus Graubünden», in: Bündner Jahrbuch. Zeitschrift für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte Graubündens, Band 56, 2014, p. 37–41.

Tatzkow 2014
Monika Tatzkow, «Max Silberberg», in: Verlorene Bilder, verlorene Leben. Jüdische Sammler und was aus ihren Kunstwerken wurde, published by Monika Tatzkow and Melissa Müller, 2014, p. 114–129.