This past February, after a decade-long legal dispute, a French court ordered the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to return a group of Impressionist paintings that were determined to have been illegally sold in Germany during WWII following the death of their original owner, the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard.
The four works returned to Vollard’s relatives as part of the suit are now slated to be sold at auction in France next month—a common outcome for restitution settlements, where the funds raised from public sales of artworks are split among legal heirs, who share ownership.
Two pieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir—Marine Guernesey (1883) and Judgement of Paris (1908)—Paul Cézanne’s Undergrowth (1890–92), and Paul Gauguin’s Still life with mandolin (1885) will be offered during a Sotheby’s sale that will take place in New York on May 16.
The Gauguin, which carries the highest estimate of the four, is expected to sell for a price between $10 million and $15 million. The remaining three works are valued between $250,000 and $1.5 million.
After his abrupt death in 1939 at the age of 73, Vollard’s estate became embroiled in controversy after evidence came to light that some works in his 6,000-item collection had been improperly distributed by his relatives. (Exact records for the sale history of the four works is unclear.)
His brother, Lucien Vollard, who was appointed the estate’s executor, sold works from the estate collection together with his liaisons—Étienne Bignou and Martin Fabiani—who sold works to German museums, dealers, and Nazi officers. Bignou and Fabiani were later implicated in financial frauds.
Vollard’s heirs, who filed a lawsuit against the Paris museum in 2013, argued that Lucien’s business ties to Nazi officials makes the sales of these artworks null, regardless of the dealing was made under duress. The heirs are still seeking the return of three paintings once owned by Vollard that still reside in the Musée d’Orsay.