This historic painting, looted by Nazis from acclaimed Montreal art dealer Max Stern, will forever remain in Germany

max stern Dusseldorf painting
This 19th-century Dutch painting of the artist's children used to belong to the late Montreal art dealer Max Stern, a refugee from Nazi Germany. It was part of his collection that was looted and stolen from his Dusseldorf store by the Nazis in the 1930s. On May 15, the Mayor of Dusseldorf Stephan Keller (second from right) attended a ceremony to symbolically hand it back to Stern's heirs, represented by Canadian art historian Clarence Epstein, (second from left) at the Dusseldorf municipal city hall building. (Gstettenbauer photo)

Nearly 90 years after Nazi Germany stripped art dealer Max Stern of his gallery in Dusseldorf and forced the German Jew to liquidate his large art collection to non-Jews, Stern’s heirs have agreed to sell one of the stolen paintings back to the City of Dusseldorf. The painting is called “Portrait of the Artist’s Children” (1860) by Dutch master Wilhelm von Schadow. It’s actually been hanging in the Dusseldorf mayor’s office for half a century. For years, Max Stern’s heirs have been tracking it down, as one of nearly 400 of his wartime paintings–worth an estimated $50 million in total today– that disappeared into the Nazi coffers in 1937, before Stern himself fled his native city for London.

Eventually, Stern arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1941, and established a storied career as a prominent art dealer, promoting such Canadian artists as the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. After he died childless in 1987, Stern’s estate went to Concordia University, McGill and Hebrew University, which have been funding the Max Stern Art Restitution Project for about 20 years.

The story of how this latest Dusseldorf deal was done, and why Germany gets to keep the painting, has been fraught with controversy. On The CJN Daily, we’re joined by Clarence Epstein, the Montreal art historian who oversaw the decades-long hunt for Stern’s lost art, and is just back from the symbolic handover ceremony in Dusseldorf.

What we talked about

  • Learn more about the Max Stern collection and efforts to repatriate the 400 works in The CJN.
  • Visit the Max Stern Art Restitution Project website
  • Buy Cantor Moshe Kraus’s 2023 memoir The Life of Moshele der Zinger at Indigo.


The CJN Daily is written and hosted by Ellin Bessner (@ebessner on Twitter). Zachary Kauffman is the producer. Michael Fraiman is the executive producer. Our theme music is by Dov Beck-Levine. Our title sponsor is Metropia. We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To subscribe to this podcast, please watch this video. Donate to The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt by clicking here.