Restitution of a Nymphenburg porcelain box to the descendents of the Rothberger family by the Münchner Stadtmuseum

The Münchner Stadtmuseum is restituting a Nymphenburg porcelain box to the heirs of the family of the Viennese textile merchant Heinrich Rothberger. Proactive research by the provenance research has revealed that the disappropriation of the object from Heinrich Rothberger in 1938 was the result of Nazi persecution.

The Münchner Stadtmuseum acquired the porcelain box on 18 November 1938 at a sale at the Hans W. Lange auction house in Berlin. It is a porcelain snuff box with a relief of the head of Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria. It was designed by Dominikus Auliczek the Elder for the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and was formerly in the important porcelain collection of Heinrich Rothberger, a Jewish textile factory owner from Vienna. Heinrich Rothberger owned an important art collection that included more than 300 porcelain objects.

Heinrich Rothberger was born in Vienna in 1868 and, together with his brothers Moritz and Alfred, took over Jacob Rothberger’s textile company in 1899. Together they managed the textile department store directly opposite St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the centre of Vienna. Following the so-called ‘annexation’ of Austria into the German Reich in March 1938, the persecution of Jewish citizens began there as well. Heinrich and Ella Rothberger’s eldest son, Johann, was deported to Dachau concentration camp in early 1938 in order to force the family to give up the business. In November 1938 Jacob Rothberger’s company was taken over by a non-Jewish proprietor. The family’s share from the sale was subsequently paid directly to the fiscal authorities; at the same time, they were burdened with the huge debts. To settle these compulsory levies Heinrich Rothberger was forced to sell part of his porcelain collection.

A total of 80 lots were sold on 18 and 19 November 1938 at the Hans W. Lange auction house. However, Heinrich Rothberger could not freely dispose of the sum obtained. Debts, Reich Flight Tax and fictitious levies were imposed on all subsequent sales of works of art and property. In February 1939, Heinrich’s son, Johann Rothberger, was released from the concentration camp and immediately started his preparations to emigrate. Heinrich and his wife Ella Rothberger left Vienna on 2 November 1941 and ultimately reached Cuba via Barcelona.

With the support of colleagues working in the field of provenance research in Vienna it has been possible to prove beyond doubt that the porcelain box was disappropriated as the result of persecution. The Münchner Stadtmuseum has agreed, therefore, to restitute the object to the descendants of the Rothberger family who now live in America.

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