Peter Watson and Massimo Campigli

When the Ensatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) raided Watson’s flat at 44 Rue du Bac on 9th December 1940, one of the pictures that subsequently found its way to the repository of stolen art at the Jeu de Paume was by Campigli. The Germans gave it the title “Ruckenfigur einer Frau und zwei Akte”. It was an oil on canvas from 1928. It was one of a number of Watson’s pictures which found its way onto the famous last train of looted goods which attempted to leave Paris in August 1944 on its way to Germany, but which never left Paris because of the delaying activities of the French as the Allies approached to liberate the City. As a result the Allies captured the train and all its contents and Watson got his share back in December 1945.

In Venice recently I was reminded of this when I saw my first picture by Campigli. I suspect there are not many in English collections, apart from the great Estorick Collection of Italian Art in Islington. He was born in Berlin in 1895 with the name Max Ihlenfeldt, but is treated as an Italian artist as he moved to Florence at an early age and then to Paris. He died in 1971.

Did Watson know him in Paris? He almost certainly bought his picture there, between 1928 and 1939. Campigli’s first wife was Rumanian. Was there a link with Sherban Sidery, whom Watson left looking after his flat at the beginning of the War and who was also a Paris-based Rumanian?