Matisse Painting Stolen By Nazis Reignites Sonja Henie’s Dark Past


Relatives of the legendary Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg are demanding the return of a Matisse Masterpiece from the Henie-Onstad Art Centre in Norway. The family claim that the painting was seized by Nazis, under the orders of Hermann Goering, during World War II. The gallery has so far refused to cooperate with the family in securing its return.

“Blue Dress in a Yellow Armchair,” shows a woman sitting in a drawing room in front of a fireplace with another painting by Matisse hanging over the mantle. It has been prominently displayed at the Henie-Onstad Art Gallery in Oslo from the time the museum was established in 1968. It was gifted by the wealthy art collector Niels Onstad and his wife the Olympic figure-skating champion, Sonja Henie who created the important art collection together.

“Henie’s connections with Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials made her the subject of controversy before, during, and after World War II. During her amateur skating career, she performed often in Germany and was a favorite of German audiences and of Hitler personally. As a wealthy celebrity, she moved in the same social circles as royalty and heads of state and made Hitler’s acquaintance as a matter of course”(1).

“Controversy appeared first when Henie greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute during an exhibition in Berlin some time prior to the 1936 Winter Olympics; she was strongly denounced by the Norwegian press. She did not repeat the salute at the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but after the Games she accepted an invitation to lunch with Hitler at his resort home in nearby Berchtesgaden, where Hitler presented Henie with an autographed photo which included a lengthy inscription. After starting her film career, Henie kept up her Nazi connections by personally arranging with Joseph Goebbels the distribution and release of her first Hollywood film, “One in a Million”, in Germany”(2).

The Henie-Onstad Centre in Oslo was only notified about the title dispute in 2012, when the London-based Art Loss Register, an official data-base of lost, stolen and looted works of art contacted them. The ALR have documentation that the Matisse was in the inventory of the Rosenberg Gallery and that it was reported missing to the French authorities as early as 1946. The American lawyer and Rosenberg granddaughter Marianne Rosenberg, stated to AP on Friday that she; “didn’t wish to antagonise the museum, but hoped that it would come to realise that it is wrong in every sense of the term”, to keep the painting.

Paul Rosenberg was one of the greatest art dealers of his generation. He represented artists including Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. He began his career in his father’s antiques business, and worked in England (1902–05) before returning to Paris to open an art gallery (1911). The gallery was successful enough that he opened another premises in England (1935). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1940 to escape Nazi persecution. Rosenberg opened a gallery in New York which he represented Modern American and European artists. The Henie – Onstad Centre in Oslo should now do the right thing and give the painting back to its rightful owners.

(1,2 information courtesy of  Wikipedia )