Enfilade

MFA Reaches Agreement to Retain Seven Rare Pieces of Porcelain

Posted in museums by Editor on May 7, 2017

Press release (4 May 2017) from Boston’s MFA:

Figure of Harlequine, Höchst Manufactory, ca. 1752; hard-paste porcelain (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has reached an agreement with the Estate of Emma Budge, allowing the Museum to retain seven pieces of rare 18th-century German porcelain that were sold in Berlin in 1937. As the direct result of Nazi persecution, the proceeds from the sale were never realized by Budge’s heirs. The Italian comedy figures (commedia dell’arte), made by the porcelain manufactories Höchst, Fürstenburg, and Fulda, all belonged to Emma Lazarus Budge (1852–1937), who built a large collection of decorative arts in her home in Hamburg. These seven objects combine with works from the MFA collection to represent the only complete sets of these figures known to exist.

Upon Budge’s death in 1937, she left the disposition of her art collection to her estate executors. Emma Budge, who was Jewish, had specified that she did not wish her collection to be sold within National Socialist Germany. Nevertheless, on October 4–6, 1937, a large portion of her collection was sold by her estate at auction in Berlin. The proceeds from the sale were credited to the account of the Budge estate at M. M. Warburg Bank in Hamburg, but the ultimate settlement of the estate was delayed until 1939. In the meantime, Warburg Bank was Aryanized, or sold to non-Jewish owners, and several of Mrs. Budge’s estate executors, who were also Jewish, were dismissed from their roles. Many of her heirs fled Germany, and those who remained were subject to persecution. The estate funds that were ultimately disbursed were placed into tightly controlled, blocked accounts to which those heirs did not have free access.

Mel Urbach and Lothar Fremy, the lawyers representing the Budge Estate, thanked the MFA for efforts in reaching a “just and fair” solution. “The MFA has set another example of how provenance issues can be resolved through mutual cooperation, respect and recognition.”

The seven pieces of porcelain at the MFA were purchased at the 1937 auction by Otto and Magdalena Blohm, also porcelain collectors from Hamburg, and probably acquaintances of Emma Budge. Mrs. Blohm moved to New York after World War II, bringing the porcelain collection with her. Edward and Kiyi Pflueger acquired the figures from the Blohm collection and bequeathed them to the MFA in 2006. The series of Italian Comedy figures assembled by the Pfluegers formed part of their internationally known collection of European ceramics. Over the course of several years, the MFA acquired the Pflueger Collection, which offered a rare comprehensive survey of the art and technology of porcelain and pottery production in Europe from the late 15th to the 18th century.

The Budge figures belong to three distinct sets that were produced by German porcelain manufactories that flourished in the 1750s and ‘60s. The Höchst figures are unusual for standing on architectural plinths that were probably inspired by the ‘Comedy parterre’ garden at Schönborn Palace in Vienna. Their Fürstenberg counterparts, probably made a year or two later, stand on the ground. The single figure of Harlequin from the Fulda factory may be the rarest of all, since it was made a decade later at a much smaller, short-lived factory.

Objects included in the settlement:
Harlequin, Höchst Manufactory, ca. 1752
Harlequine, Höchst Manufactory, ca. 1752
Il Capitano, Höchst Manufactory, ca. 1752
Scaramouche, modeled by Simon Feilner, Fürstenberg Manufactory, ca. 1754
• Ragonda, modeled by Simon Feilner, Fürstenberg Manufactory, ca. 1754
Columbine, modeled by Simon Feilner, Fürstenberg Manufactory, ca. 1754
Harlequin, Fulda Manufactory, ca 1765

The MFA is a leader in the field of provenance research, employing a full-time Curator for Provenance, who works with curators throughout the Museum to research and document the MFA’s collection on an ongoing basis. Findings are included in the Museum’s online collections database. The MFA follows the highest standards of professional practice in regards to issues of ownership and in its response to claims for works in the collection. If research demonstrates that a work of art has been stolen, confiscated or unlawfully appropriated without subsequent restitution, then the Museum will notify potential claimants, and seek to resolve the matter in an equitable, appropriate and mutually agreeable manner. A list of ownership resolutions at the Museum since the late 1990s can be found here.

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