Given by the above as collateral for loans to the Dresdner Bank, Danzig (their label affixed to the reverse);
Sold to Prussia by purchase agreement between Dresdner Bank and Prussia and transferred to the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, cat. no. 2146 in 1935;
Restituted by the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz to the heirs of Heinrich Ueberall in 2019.
B. Nicolson, 'Stomer Brought Up-to-Date', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 119, no. 889, 1977, p. 242, no. 101;
B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford 1979, p. 93;
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Oxford 1990, vol. I, p. 180;
C. Eisler, Masterworks in Berlin, a City's Paintings Reunited, New York 1996, p. 283, reproduced in colour p. 284;
H. Bock, I. Geismeier, R. Grosshans, J. Kelch, W. Köhler, R. Michaelis, H. Nützmann and E. Schleier, Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Gesamtverzeichnis, Berlin 1996, pp. 115, and 615 cat. no. 2146, reproduced fig. 1623;
R. Verdi, Matthias Stom: Isaac blessing Jacob: the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, exh. cat., Birmingham 1999, p. 38, reproduced p. 37, fig. 15.
Stomer's paintings are notoriously difficult to date, in part because of the scarce anagraphical details known about him, but also because his style did not change significantly during his career. He is known to have been in Rome in 1603–32, before moving to Naples and then Sicily, where his only signed and dated work can be found, the 1641 altarpiece of Isidore the Labourer, painted for the church of San Agostino, in Caccamo. Stomer treated the present subject on at least two other occasions: a larger work was formerly on the New York art market, while a second, which shows the figures full-length, is at the Konstmuseum, Gothenburg.1
The book of Genesis relates that Abraham was told by an angel that his elderly wife Sarah would bear a child. There was, however, little reasonable hope that this would happen since Sarah was infertile. Taking matters into her own hands, as this painting illustrates, Sarah offered Hagar, her Egyptian handmaiden, to her husband so that his line might continue. Hagar's son was given the name Ishmael and he and his mother continued to live with Abraham until Sarah did indeed give birth to a child, Isaac, who was later to come so close to being sacrificed. At both God's and Sarah's insistence, Hagar and Ishmael were banished to the desert, where an angel came to their rescue. Ishmael was to be the father of a great nation in his own right, but it was Isaac alone who was to fulfil Abraham's destiny. To this day many Arabs consider Ishmael their ancestor and he is a key prophet for Muslims.
HEINRICH UEBERALL (1869–1939)
Heinrich Ueberall, the pre-war owner of this painting by Matthias Stomer, was born in Yaroslavl, Galicia in December 1869. He lived with his wife Rebecka (née Bercovitz, 1878–1942) in Bucharest until the turn of the twentieth century, before moving to Berlin. In Berlin he built up a successful art dealership, selling Old Master paintings and sculptures, and by 1909 his success had allowed him to relocate his gallery to a prestigious address at 98 Wilhelmstrasse, not far from the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin’s Mitte.
A major Berlin thoroughfare, Wilhelmstrasse would, after 1933, become home to Hermann Göring’s Ministry of Aviation, Josef Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and the Gestapo headquarters. Ueberall was long in the sights of the Nazi elite, as many of them had been his gallery clients, and he was forced to give up his business in 1934, not least because of its position between the ministries at the epicentre of National Socialist power on Wilhelmstrasse (a thoroughfare playing host to increasingly disturbing parades and other events) and because, as a Jew, he could not gain access to the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts), to which all German art dealers had to belong after 1933 if they wanted to continue dealing.
Because of the dire economic situation in Germany from the late 1920s onwards, Ueberall had been forced to use some of his private art collection as collateral to raise loans from the Dresdner Bank in Danzig to keep himself and his family afloat. Losing his gallery on Wilhelmstrasse in 1934 brought him to the brink of financial and existential ruin and he was not able to reclaim his works from the Dresdner Bank because, as a Jew in extremis, he was in no position to repay his debts to the bank.
In 1935 the Dresdner Bank sold a group of some 4,400 works of art that had served as loan collateral and largely came from Jewish collections to Prussia. Sixteen works that had once belonged to Ueberall thus went into the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin as part of the 1935 Dresdner Bank transaction with Prussia, the result of a 1934 Nazi ministerial resolution that aimed to increase the holdings of the Prussian state museums. The Stomer painting was on public view at the Gemäldegalerie Berlin until January 2019. Together with two other paintings and two sculptures formerly in Ueberall’s possession, it was returned by the Stiftung Preuβischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) to the principal heir, Ueberall’s 93-year-old grandson, a Holocaust survivor living far away from Europe, and his other heirs.
Heinrich Ueberall was deported to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen in September 1939, where he was murdered at the age of seventy. Rebecka Ueberall, at the time destitute and without a permanent address, took her own life in 1942, having just received her deportation order. The Ueberalls' adult son, George, had emigrated to England in June 1939, and their daughter, Lilly Ella, her husband Wilhelm and their two young sons had fled from Danzig to New York at the outbreak of World War II.
We are very grateful to Dr Irena Strelow, M.A., in Berlin for her kind research input on this text.
1 Nicolson 1977, p. 242, no. 100.
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