Legal battle around the “Marie-Madeleine” of Proust’s cousin, looted by the Nazis

When, in the spring of 2018, Bernard Hauser received an email from ATP Avignon, the Popular Theater Association created by his father in the 1960s, he reread the message several times: the Christie’s auction house was urgently seeking to enter in contact with the heirs of the banker Lionel Hauser, who died in 1958 in Paris, and whose painting looted during the Second World War has reappeared.

Bernard is the grandson of Lionel, whom he knew little and whom he remembers as a rigid man with an always impeccable suit. Today, the memory of this deceased grandfather returns to his heirs thanks to Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene, by Adriaen van der Werff, painted in 1707, a painting at the heart of a conflict which now opposes the four Hauser heirs to the Christie’s auction house.

The confidant of the “Grand Marcel”

Lionel Hauser’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren had to take a leap in time to understand why this unknown painting was bursting into their lives. Lionel Hauser comes from an Austrian Jewish family who settled in Spain at the end of the 19th century.e century. He left his native country for England, then Germany and France, where he settled in Paris. The family quickly finds its place within the Jewish upper middle class, made up of bankers, collectors, but also doctors and renowned intellectuals.

In April 1882 Lionel Hauser (14 years old) met a distant cousin in Auteuil, Marcel Proust (11 years old). Having become a banker within the Warburg house, Lionel is charged by Gustave Neuburger, administrator of the Rothschild bank and uncle of Marcel, to help this one to manage the small fortune which he inherited from his father. The two men became friends and exchanged thousands of letters between 1908 and 1922, the date of the writer’s death. In the Hauser family, it is this memory that Lionel left to his descendants: the friend, the confidant of “Grand Marcel”, whose documents will be sold to Philip Kolb, a specialist in the writer’s correspondence, at the death of the patriarch in the 1960s.

“Lionel, my grandfather, lost everything during the war. But, of all that, we never spoke and it is today with this business of painting that we reopen our history. »Bernard Hauser

As soon as the defeat of 1940, Lionel and his wife, Jeanne Schwenk, slam the door of their apartment on the avenue de l’Observatoire, in Paris. Direction Perpignan, then Montpellier, where they will learn in 1943 the theft of all their goods, furniture and works of art, which Lionel had collected during his life. Their daughter-in-law recounts Lionel’s reaction in her Memoirs.

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