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The Dormition of the VirginEnlarge image

The Dormition of the Virgin, c. 1480

Unknown (South German - late 15th century)

tempera on oak
176.5 x 80.3 cm sight
Purchased 1951
National Gallery of Canada (no. 5768)

The apostles gather at the Virgin's death bed. St. Peter, dressed as a priest, blesses her with holy water as part of the last rites. If momentous, this event would also have seemed very familiar to the artist's contemporaries: the ritual was part of their own preparation for dying. This panel was one-half of a pair of shutters protecting an elaborate altarpiece. The Dormition was likely on the exterior; the facing shutter would have shown the Virgin's bodily Assumption into heaven after her death. The inner sides of the shutters were decorated as well: the back of this panel, now damaged, once showed either a Nativity or the Adoration of the Magi, with sculpted figures set against a painted background. The shutters would normally be closed, except on special feast days when they were opened to reveal the altarpiece within.

Provenance 

Alexander Schnütgen (1843–1918), Cologne, Germany (?) [1]

–1930
Schnütgen Museum, Cologne [2]

1930–1943
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne [3]

1943–1949/08
Galerie für Alte Kunst (Walter Bornheim, b.1888), Munich, Germany, purchased from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum [4]

1949/08–1951/02/15
Frederic A. Stern (b.1899), New York, USA, awarded to him by the Wiedergutmachungsbehörde Oberbayern, Germany, in compensation for damages sustained during the Nazi-regime [5]

1951/02/15–
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from Frederic A. Stern [6]

Notes 

[1] See note [3].

[2] See note [3]

[3] The Dormition of the Virgin likely belonged to the private collection of Alexander Schnütgen, who was vicar of the Cologne cathedral since 1866. Schnütgen donated his entire collection to the city of Cologne in 1906, where a museum was founded in his honour in 1910. The altar wing was transferred from the Schnütgen Museum to the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in 1930 and inventoried there as WRM no. 815 [e-mail by Dr. Roswitha Neu-Kock, Referat für Museumsangelegenheiten, Provenienzforschung, Cologne, to A.Kausch, NGC Provenance Research Project, June 17, 2009]. It remained there until 1943, when it was sold to Walter Bornheim [see note 4].

[4] Walter Bornheim took over the firm A.S. Drey, Munich, in 1936 and renamed it “Galerie für Alte Kunst“. In order to acquire a 12th century statue of the Virgin and Child and a painting by Lancret from Bornheim, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum de-accessioned The Dormition of the Virgin along with other works of art from its collection. The museum gave 300 000 Reichsmark and sixteen pictures from its collection as payment, among them Benozzo Gozzoli's The Virgin and Child with Saints, today also in the possession of the NGC [Detailed Interrogation Report no. 11 of Walter Bornheim, conducted by Theodore Rousseau on September 15, 1945, p. 4, in: OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports 1945 – 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., USA, 2001, Microfilm M1782]. Indirectly involved in this deal was Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, one of Bornheim's most important customers. Göring was given the right of first refusal to Bornheim's 12th century Madonna. As compensation for ceding this right he received four of the sixteen Wallraf-Richartz Museum paintings from Bornheim. Otto H. Förster, then General Director for Museum of the City of Cologne, states that he was opposed to this deal but was forced into it by Cologne's Nazi mayor Peter Winkelnkemper [Wallraf-Richartz Museum Archive, Akte Förster: Förster, Otto. “Der Ausbau der Gemäldegalerie des Wallraf-Richartz-Museums von 1935 bis 1944.“ Mehlem, July/August 1945 (unpublished), p.32]. Bornheim never sold The Dormition of the Virgin [Detailed Interrogation Report no. 11, see above]. The panel remained in his personal possession until August 1949, when it was restituted to the heirs of A.S. Drey. See note [5].

[5] New York art dealer Frederic A. Stern was one of A.S. Drey's grandsons and is named as one of the beneficiaries of the family's restitution claim [courtorder, dated Aug. 4, 1949, Wiedergutmachungsbehörde I, Oberbayern, reference no. I a-937, Staatsarchiv München, NGC curatorial file]. The Dormition of the Virgin is listed as “Ölgemälde, Bayrisch, um 1500” (“oilpainting, Bavarian, c.1500 “) in the document. Stern sold the work to the National Gallery of Canada on Feb.15, 1951.

[6] Accession log [NGC curatorial file].

Provenance completed
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