Famously, the Nazis were quite hypocritical when it came to art. On the one hand, they were quick to condemn works painted by Jewish artists or by other so-called â€˜degenerates’. On the other, however, they were more than happy to confiscate works by such artists, especially those worth large sums of money. Indeed, several prominent members of the Nazi regime would routinely â€˜confiscate’ paintings and other works of art in the name of public decency, only to add them to their own personal collections. Which is precisely what’s likely to have happened to Jean Metzinger’s modernist masterpiece En Canot.
Frenchman Metzinger produced the piece in 1913. It depicts a woman, painted in a surrealist fashion, sitting in a canoe. Around her, waves are meant to give the viewer an unsettling feeling. The work painting was displayed in Paris that same summer and three years later it was acquired by Georg Muche. He agreed for En Canot to be displayed in a prominent gallery in Berlin, where it was then promoted to the German National Gallery. However, when the Nazis began their clampdown on art, it was confiscated. The painting was last seen in 1938, shown as part of the Degenerate Art Exhibition which toured Germany for three years.
When the Nazi’s infamous traveling exhibition came to an end, many of the featured works were auctioned off to buyers in Switzerland, with all the money going to fund the regime’s war preparations. En Canot was not among them. It may be that a senior Nazi stepped in and took it for themselves – Hermann Goering, after all, took works by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne for his private collection, despite both artists having been labelled as â€˜degenerate’ by the regime. Alternatively, it might have simply been destroyed. If it is ever found, Metzinger’s missing work would likely fetch more than $3 million at auction, not before it sparked a debate over who actually owns it, however.