Listed as stolen, a Patel from the Musée de Valence had been restituted

Pierre Patel (1605-1676)
Landscape of Ruins with Stairs
Oil on canvas - 46 x 67 cm
Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Didier Rykner

17/11/10 – Unusual – Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts – When preparing our article on the database for works stolen by the Germans during WWII which went through the Jeu de Paume, that is the ERR base (see news item of 23/10/10), we tried to find one or two unpublished paintings. In the process, we quickly came across a painting by Pierre-Antoine Patel which did not seem to be listed in Nathalie Coural’s book [1]. Since the canvases by Pierre-Antoine Patel strongly resemble those by his son Pierre, we had extended our research to him as well and immediately stumbled upon the painting in question [2], today held at the Musée de Valence (ill.) which had purchased it at auction in 1993 and did not have a provenance before 1972 when it first appeared at public auction [3].

The painting, listed as not restituted on the database, appeared therefore as a stolen work, a disturbing detail for the museum which had purchased it in a legitimate way. We contacted the establishment to inform them, as well as Thierry Bajou, chief curator for heritage at the Service des musées de France in charge of questions tied to restitutions. Our site could not of course discuss the situation before the presumed owners were contacted, that is the Seligmann family.
Fortunately for the French museum which knew it would be obliged to return the canvas, it turns out that the painting had in fact been restituted to the Seligmanns on 19 February 1946 as confirmed to us by Thierry Bajou after consulting the archives. Despite a different title (Surroundings of Rome), the stolen number, SEL 89, is indeed the same one appearing both in the ERR database and in the Inventory established by the Commission de Récupération Artistique. Finally, nothing more than a scare.

We can however conclude after the fortunate conclusion to this case that the ERR database is not necessarily up to date and that the entry “not restituted” is not always exact. In any case, the historical background on the painting, unknown before 1972, is now complete.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 17 novembre 2010


[1] Nathalie Coural, Les Patel. Paysagistes du XVIIe siècle, Arthéna, Paris, 2001.

[2] Op. cit., p. 141, cat. PP12, reproduced in colour p. 59.

[3] The canvas was recently presented at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes for the exhibition : Le Paysage au temps de Mazarin.

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