Art Note: The Provenance of Cranach's 'Cupid Complaining to Venus'

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The Elder Lucas Cranach's painting of Cupid, stung by bees whilst stealing a honey comb, and complaining to Venus, was painted in about 1526 and is signed with his batwinged serpent. It was bought by the London National Gallery in 1963. I wrote to Michael Levey, the gallery's expert on German painting, in preparation for a notice, 'A New Cranach at the National Gallery', which appeared in the Contemporary Review in May, 1964. The only information Sir Michael was able to give me was that it had been recently purchased from a New York art-dealer. I later learned that the dealer was Silbermann (no longer in business) and the price [pounds sterling]134,000.

According to the revised second edition (London, 1978) of Friedlander and Rosenberg's monumental catalogue of Cranach's paintings (first published in Berlin, 1932) thirty versions of Venus and Cupid were produced by Cranach and his Studio. The version in the National Gallery is indubitably from the hand of the master himself, and one of the best at that. It is likely to be FR no. 246L, listed but not illustrated, sold in Berlin by auction in 1909 from the Emil Goldschmidt Collection, Frankfurt am Main (buyer unknown). It may be noteworthy that Cranach's painting of Venus without Cupid (FR no. 246P) was seized from the Weimar Schlossmuseum and given to Adolf Hitler as a birthday present in 1939.

The National Gallery Venus and Cupid reappeared when, towards the end of the Third Reich, it was found by American soldiers in a German wartime shelter for works of art, which were removed to a warehouse in South Germany. There it was shown to Patricia Hartwell, a war-correspondent for Colliers Weekly and Women's Home Companion. …