Cover image for Landscape with smokestacks : the case of the allegedly plundered Degas
Landscape with smokestacks : the case of the allegedly plundered Degas
Trienens, Howard J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 122 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
1. Edgar Degas creates Landscape with smokestacks -- 2. Daniel C. Searle buys the landscape -- 3. The Goodmans claim the landscape -- 4. The Goodmans sue Searle -- 5. What happened to the landscape? -- 6. The postwar search -- 7. Pretrial legal issues -- 8. The settlement -- 9. Postmortem.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF228.G665 T75 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The dispute over Edgar Degas's Landscape with Smokestacks was featured in newspapers and on television. But because the suit was settled before trial, the story behind the headlines was never publicly presented. Howard J. Trienens, a lawyer for the defendant collector, traces the landscape's travels from its prewar home to its current location in the Art Institute of Chicago, laying out the mystery surrounding the work and demonstrating the legal complexities that plague Holocaust restitution cases, yet are seldom examined in depth by the media.

Author Notes

Howard J. Trienens served as a law clerk to Supreme Court chief justice Frederick M. Vinson from 1950 to 1952 before permanently joining the law firm of Sidley and Austin, where he became a partner in 1956. He has been a senior vice president and the general counsel for ATandT and a director of R. R. Donnelley and Sons and G. D. Searle and is currently a member of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees. He lives in Glencoe, Illinois

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Two new books on Nazi art theft examine the topic from macro and micro points of view respectively. See the Read-alikes column on the opposite page for related titles. Historian Harclerode and investigative journalist Pittaway present new findings gleaned from painstaking research into the Nazis' systematic looting of Europe's art treasures. They explain that tens of thousands of works of art were stashed by the Germans in dozens of repositories, the largest and most important of which was discovered in a salt mine in the Alps. Harclerode and Pittaway then tell--for the first time--the full and dramatic story of the artworks rescue by four heroic but unsung members of the Austrian Resistance. Not only did they save the famed Ghent altarpiece, they may have saved the Mona Lisa. The authors have many more surprises in store for readers patient enough to endure their often plodding prose, including their chronicling of the deplorable roles played by Switzerland, Spain, Russia, and the U.S. in unscrupulous art trafficking and the obstacles to restitution rightful owners must overcome to find justice. This utilitarian but invaluable volume reveals that, in addition to every other manifestation of evil, the Nazis turned a passion for art into a crime against humanity. Attorney Trienens goes beyond the headlines to reveal the complexities of a high-profile case involving a work of art, Degas' Landscape with Smokestacks, allegedly stolen by the Nazis. Well-documented both in terms of its provenance and its visibility in exhibits and art history texts, the Degas was purchased in 1987 by Chicago art collector Daniel Searle, who never imagined that it was the object of a very different sort of quest. In 1995, a lawyer for the heirs of a Dutch banker and art collector of Jewish descent, Freidrich Gutmann, informed Searle that his clients were the rightful owners. Apparently Gutmann had sent the Degas to a dealer in Paris before he and his wife were arrested and murdered in a concentration camp, and his heirs surmised that the pastel-on-monoprint ended up in Nazi hands. It sounds clear-cut, but, as Trienens explains with compelling precision, the truth proved to be far more ambiguous. Trienens not only exposes the weakness of the lawsuit, he decries simplistic media coverage and cautions against making tacit assumptions. --Donna Seaman



Chapter One Edgar Degas Creates Landscape with Smokestacks This book covers events before, during, and after World War II. At the center of these events is a single work of art by Edgar Degas (see illustration 1, page 1).     Degas is famous for his paintings on canvas of ballerinas and nudes. The work of art that is the subject of this book is different. Known as Landscape with Smokestacks ( Paysage avec fumée de cheminées ) it is not a painting on canvas. It is a monotype mounted on a board. Specifically, it is an 11 7/8-inch-by-15 3/4-inch "pastel over monotype in brown, green and purple oil colors on buff-colored based paper."     Degas, born in 1834, was already an established painter when he began experimenting with monotypes. To create a monotype, the artist applies oils to a metal plate, rearranging them until satisfied. A paper is placed on the metal plate, and all is then placed into a press, transferring the image to the paper. Degas described the process as "drawings made with greasy ink put through a press." The result is a picture on paper more luminous than if the artist had worked directly on the paper. "[I]t is inherent in the monotype process that only one or two impressions may be pulled from the plate before the ink is used up ... a monotype is more like a drawing than a print: each impression is unique, or virtually so." Hence the "mono-" in "monotype."     Degas produced hundreds of monotypes. Some were in black and white, some with colored oils, and some with pastels added to the paper. Most were portraits; a few were landscapes.     As a doctoral student at Harvard University, Eugenia Parry Janis published the definitive work on the subject, entitled Degas Monotypes: Essay, Catalogue and Checklist , in 1968. Janis described Degas's technique in producing Landscape with Smokestacks as follows: "The artist set down the oil colors on the plate by smearing them in large diagonal strokes with a rag, allowing the color of the paper to show through. Fingerprints, set down in rows, provide additional textures, especially along the horizon. The pastel additions are mostly concentrated in the lower areas of the format.... [T]he pastel colors were set down in little dots or dabs of yellow and pink. Degas matched green striations of monotype ink with green pastel. Prussian blue pastel was smeared into the sky to suggest smoke coming from the nearly eradicated monotype chimney."     Janis identified the landscape as having been produced by Degas sometime between 1890 and 1893 and commented: "In the late landscapes, Degas never tried to hide a monotype base under pastel but instead deliberately set up a vibrating optical effect between the colored base and the more intensely colored and, isolated pastel taches that rest on top of it."     Degas continued to produce works of art for nearly two more decades. When he died in 1917, contemporaries were astonished at the profusion of his output, much of it still stored in his studio.     It took four auctions at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris, each for three days, to dispose of Degas's collection. In the first three sessions, 1,139 paintings, pastels, drawings, and impressions were auctioned. In the fourth sale, from July 2 to July 4, 1919, 391 additional pieces ("including all of his sea/landscapes") were sold, one of which was Landscape with Smokestacks .     This book undertakes to trace the unusual and oftentimes controversial journey of this pastel-over-monotype landscape from Degas's studio to the Art Institute of Chicago. Chapter Two Daniel C. Searle Buys the Landscape The Art Institute of Chicago is known worldwide for its extensive collection of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art. The works of Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, and many others line the museum's galleries. Of particular merit is the Art Institute's Degas collection. Impressive for its quality as well as its quantity, the collection, until recently, lacked a critical component -- a Degas pastel-over-monotype landscape. When a New York art dealer informed the Art Institute in 1986 that such a work might be for sale, curators at the museum were eager to acquire it.     At that time, Landscape with Smokestacks belonged to Emile Wolf, a well-known art collector living in New York City. The landscape had long been a part of Wolf's large art collection in his Park Avenue apartment. Wolf had lent it to three major exhibits and allowed it to be published in major catalogues raisonnés, which are definitive listings of an artist's work assembled by art scholars and relied upon as primary sources for identifying and locating the works of a particular artist.     Wolf lent the landscape to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence for an exhibit in 1984. He also lent the landscape for exhibition at the Finch College Museum in New York from 1966 to 1968. Later in 1968, the landscape was on loan to Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.     The Fogg Museum's 1968 exhibit focused on Degas monotypes, at that time a little-known and little-written-about aspect of his art and technique. Eugenia Parry Janis was responsible for identifying and locating as many Degas monotypes as she could. In addition to helping organize the exhibit, Janis also assembled a catalogue raisonné of Degas monotypes. Her book Degas Monotypes , published as the exhibition catalog, achieved critical success as the definitive work on Degas monotypes and was acquired by major libraries in the United States and Europe. The landscape also appeared in a book by J. Adhémar and F. Cachin, Degas -- the Complete Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes , published in French in 1974 and in English in 1975.     Wolf had a reputation as an avid buyer of works of art. While he was eager to add to his voluminous collection, he was less willing to sell any of it. Margo Pollins Schab, who owns the Schab Galleries in New York, was one of many art dealers who dealt with Wolf over the years. "The problem with Mr. Wolf, you see, was that he was an impossible person to deal with," Schab said. "There were many, many dealers who had the same story to tell about Wolf; that they would be interested in something and he would name some crazy price and the person would say but that's insane and he would say that's okay, just tell the client I'm insane."     When Wolf unexpectedly sold several pieces of his collection in the mid-1980s, Schab took this as a sign that he might be willing to sell more. Schab knew that Wolf owned Landscape with Smokestacks and was aware of its value to the Art Institute's Degas collection. In May 1986, she wrote to Douglas Druick, a longtime friend and art museum curator who had joined the Art Institute as its curator of prints and drawings in the previous year. In the letter, Schab warned Druick that if the Art Institute wanted the Degas landscape, it would have to act promptly. News that Wolf had sold some of his collection would spread quickly, Schab informed Druick, and soon art dealers would be flocking to his apartment to see what else Wolf might be willing to sell. Druick and another curator in the prints and drawings department, Suzanne McCullagh, were both very interested in acquiring Landscape with Smokestacks . McCullagh regarded the landscape as "ravishing, very unusual." However, Wolf wanted $900,000 for the landscape, a price the Art Institute could not then afford.     It is common practice for an art museum to seek out potential buyers for a work of art it desires but lacks the financial ability to acquire on its own. Curators frequently suggest works of art to the museum's patrons with the hope that the patrons will purchase the works and later donate them to the museum. Daniel C. Searle was just such a person (see illustration 2). The retired chairman of the pharmaceutical firm G. D. Searle & Company, Searle began collecting art in the 1970s and had been a member of the Art Institute's Board of Trustees since 1983. Searle, a resident of a suburb of Chicago, had been focusing his collection on landscapes from late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century artists and had on several occasions received advice from curators at the Art Institute on works of art he might want to buy and consider donating. Searle had donated paintings to the Art Institute--one a famous grain stack by Claude Monet. Prior to hearing about Landscape with Smokestacks , Searle had purchased a seascape by Degas called Plage à marée basse . This was a work recommended to him by McCullagh, a longtime family friend who had grown up with Searle's daughter. The art dealer who coordinated that purchase was Margo Pollins Schab, the same person who would later bring Landscape with Smokestacks to the Art Institute's attention. Over the years Searle had been generous with both his time and his money to the Art Institute. This, coupled with the fact that he had been collecting landscapes from Degas's era, made Searle an ideal candidate to buy Landscape with Smokestacks . As McCullagh said, "We [Druick and I] both felt that this was an immensely desirable piece at a price that would be difficult for us to raise quickly and that we, therefore, might share the work with Mr. Searle in case it was of interest to him."     In March 1987, McCullagh sent a letter to Searle that described the Degas landscape as well as two other works she thought might interest him. She knew that Searle and his wife frequently visited New York in the spring and fall to attend the auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's, and she invited them to view the Degas while they were in New York. McCullagh also informed Searle that Margo Pollins Schab was undertaking to sell the work for Wolf.     "[McCullagh] was very anxious for me to see this painting," Searle said. "[The Art Institute] thought it was a unique, a very unique work of art and something that the Art Institute would very, very much like to own, that the Art Institute would have bought it had they had the resources. Since they didn't, [they] were urging me to buy it."     McCullagh made arrangements with Schab and Searle and his wife to view the landscape at Wolf's apartment. Wolf was absent at the time, and he and Searle never met. Though immediately impressed, Searle did not commit to buying the landscape because of its price. Schab said Wolf wanted $900,000. Searle thought that was too much money. The Art Institute's curators did not disagree.     "It was an exceptionally high price," Douglas Druick said. "It was also an exceptional work of art. In terms of what the market value is, I can't say exactly. I know what I believe the aesthetic value is. The question is, is there someone out there in the market who is going to pay? Sometimes the market for something like this is made up by two or three people."     Price was not the only obstacle. Searle was reluctant to agree to buy the landscape until his other reservations could be addressed. "We were hesitant to make any commitment at the time until, one, we could have the Art Institute inspect the painting, verify that it was what it was represented to be," Searle said. "Secondly, we wanted to see the painting in our home; and third, I wanted to consult other parties to get a better idea for what the price of a painting like this would be at a public auction."     Searle sent a color transparency of the landscape to Christie's to see how much it might fetch at auction. Christie's rough estimate was $600,000. Searle left New York with the understanding that Schab would try to persuade Wolf to lower the price while the landscape itself was brought to Chicago by Schab so curators at the Art Institute could examine it.     Druick described the steps taken to examine a work of art about to be purchased: There [are] questions that one asks about the work. Is the artist an artist of significance? The work in question by the artist, is the attribution firm? If the attribution is firm, is this a significant work by the artist? In that context, what part of the artist's career does it represent? Is that an area of the artist's production which is or is not represented by the collections as they stand? What is the condition of the work? Is the work in pristine condition? Has it been compromised by time? Has it been interfered with? Has it been damaged? Has it been restored? What does the provenance of the work tell us about who owned the work? Does it tell us anything about its exhibition history? And then finally, the question of the market price for the work--is it justified or justifiable in context of recent prices paid for the work?     Druick explained that as a curator, when examining a work of art, he proceeds item by item through the criteria outlined above. If he encounters what he termed a "green light," meaning no problems or concerns, he feels satisfied with that aspect of the artwork and continues with the examination. If he encounters what he termed a "red light," meaning something does not look right, he conducts further research into that area until the problem is fully identified and, if possible, resolved. Neither Druick nor McCullagh encountered any red lights when examining Landscape with Smokestacks for Searle. The fact that the landscape had been in Wolf's possession since 1951 was comforting. McCullagh explained: "[Wolf] had works of the highest quality, he cared deeply about them, about their proper publication, sharing them with others. He was generous in his knowledge and his collection."     McCullagh also pointed to the landscape's publication history: "It's an extensively well-documented piece. [I]t has been published very often and by very distinguished and reputable institutions including color cover treatment in one publication [the exhibition catalog for the Rhode Island School of Design exhibit in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1984], and it is in all the literature that one would want to be in."     The documentation McCullagh was referring to is listed on the landscape's provenance. A provenance is a document listing the known owners or possessors of a work of art, together with a statement of where it has been described in the scholarly literature of the artist and the exhibitions where it has been publicly shown. The provenance of Landscape with Smokestacks and other information that Schab supplied both to Searle and to the curators at the Art Institute in 1987 were as follows: EDGAR DEGAS Paysage avec fumée de cheminées (Landscape with Smokestacks) Pastel over monotype in oil colors. Red signature stamp lower left. PROVENANCE: Atelier Degas (Vente IV, July 2-4, 1919, no. 45, illustrated); Nunes et Fiquet, Paris; L. Wolff, Hamburg; Collection of S. S. (Vente Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 9, 1932, no. 5); Lutjens Collection, Holland; Hans Wendland, Paris; Hans Fankhauser, Basel; Emile Wolf, New York (since 1951). EXHIBITIONS: New York, Finch College Museum, "French Landscape Paintings from Four Centuries," Oct. 20, 1965-Jan. 9, 1966, no. 39, illustrated; Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, "Degas Monotypes," organized by Eugenia Parry Janis, April 25,-June 14, 1968, no. 68 in exhibition, no. 277 in checklist, illustrated; Providence, Rhode Island, The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1984, "From the Age of David to the Age of Picasso -- French Drawings from a Private Collection," organized by Deborah Johnson and Eric Zaffran, no. 11, illustrated in color on cover. LITERATURE: P. A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre , Paris 1946, Volume III, no. 1054, reproduced; E. P. Janis, Degas: A Critical Study of the Monotypes , New York Graphic Society, Greenwich, Conn., 1968, catalogue no. 68, checklist no. 277, illustrated; J. Adhémar and F. Cachin, Degas-- the Complete Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes , New York, 1975, p. 283.     In preparing the provenance, Schab drew upon information in a 1946 catalogue raisonné entitled Degas et son oeuvre by P. A. Lemoisne. The first entry for Landscape with Smokestacks referred to the 1919 auction by the Degas estate, where the work was purchased by "L. Wolff of Hamburg." The last entry in Lemoisne was a 1932 sale to the "Lutjens Collection, Holland." Provenance information is often ambiguous about whether the name listed is that of the owner, an art dealer, or some intermediary.     The balance of the Schab provenance was based on information developed by Eugenia Perry Janis in research for her book. Janis had written to Emile Wolf in 1967 requesting additional information. Wolf replied in a handwritten note: "I purchased it [the landscape] in 1951 from Hans Fritz Fankhauser, a collector and marchand amateur [part-time dealer] in Basel (Switzerland). He bought the Landscape from Hans Wendland Paris."     After examining the landscape and reviewing its provenance, the Art Institute gave it a clean bill of health. Shortly afterward, Schab reported to Searle that Wolf was willing to lower the price. In July 1987, Searle bought Landscape with Smokestacks for $850,000. Searle stated that in purchasing the landscape, he relied on Schab's reputation as a prominent art dealer in New York and on his previous dealings with her. Searle also stated that :in making the purchase he relied on the expertise of both Druick and McCullagh as art scholars and curators: "[Druick, McCullagh, and I] discussed the provenance in general. And the Art Institute had no comments, no cautions, no concern about the provenance that they called to my attention.... They did point out that the painting had appeared at some prestigious exhibitions, fortifying at least my belief the painting and the exhibition history of the --the ownership and exhibition history of the painting were--raised no questions in my mind or the experts, i.e., Douglas [Druick] and Suzanne [McCullagh] at the Art Institute."     Several years after he bought it, Searle lent the landscape to three museums for exhibition. In 1994, it was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, as part of a Degas exhibit arranged by Richard Kendall. Then Searle shipped the landscape overseas to the Ordupgaardsamlingen in Copenhagen, Denmark, for an exhibition running from October 1994 to January 1995. While the landscape was in Copenhagen, Searle contemplated selling it. By this time, Searle had already parted with most of his collection, which at its peak numbered from thirty to forty works of art. Disenchanted with ever-increasing prices that Searle attributed to an influx in the late 1980s of Japanese art collectors whose aggressive bidding tactics sent prices skyrocketing, Searle sold most of his collection at auction in 1989 because, he said, "prices for pictures got so high that it no longer made sense to me to buy more pictures. Since the majority of the pleasure of collecting art was being in the hunt, searching for suitable paintings, [and] since it was no longer possible to do that, I made the decision just to sell most of the collection."     Searle elected not to sell the Degas landscape in 1989 with the bulk of his collection because he believed that, having paid so much more for the work than Christie's had estimated it would fetch at an auction, he would incur a financial loss. In 1994, however, Searle received estimates that the landscape might be worth as much as $1.1 million. Searle informed the president of the Art Institute, James Wood, in November 1994 of his intention to sell the landscape and donate the money to the Art Institute to fund the Audience Development Initiative, a special project Searle had been involved with that aimed to increase public interest in art and the Art Institute. In reply, Wood "expressed his deep regret and concern on learning of your desire to sell the Degas. As you know this is a work as rare as it is beautiful, and one that from the moment they originally brought it to your attention, both Suzanne [McCullagh] and Douglas [Druick] have counted on for the collection. I realize that times and priorities change and that the last word on the disposition of works in your collection is of course yours, but the fact that this work represents the single most important missing element in an otherwise uniquely comprehensive collection of Degas' work, would make its loss all the more painful." Although Wood urged Searle to reconsider, the landscape was shipped from Copenhagen to the art dealer Schab in New York, who agreed to search for a buyer. No offers in the million-dollar range were forthcoming, and the landscape remained in New York unsold throughout 1995. Copyright (c) 2000 Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. IX
Forewordp. XI
Prefacep. XIII
Chapter 1 Edgar Degas Creates Landscape with Smokestacksp. 3
Chapter 2 Daniel C. Searle Buys the Landscapep. 5
Chapter 3 The Goodmans Claim the Landscapep. 15
Chapter 4 The Goodmans Sue Searlep. 25
Chapter 5 What Happened to the Landscape?p. 37
Chapter 6 The Postwar Searchp. 57
Chapter 7 Pretrial Legal Issuesp. 73
Chapter 8 The Settlementp. 87
Chapter 9 Postmortemp. 97
Acknowledgmentsp. 103
Notesp. 105