Monday, May 29

The great museums strive to return works stolen by the Nazis in their collections

The Louvre Museum and Sotheby’s have reached an agreement for the next three years to launch a project aimed at investigating the goods acquired by the museum between 1933 and 1945. The sponsorship will allow the collections of the French institution to be investigated to ” return the works and make them public”, the Louvre has communicated. Sotheby’s was the first international auction house to create a department dedicated to provenance research and restitution.

Last year the Louvre published an online database with 485,000 records, including more than 1,700 works that were recovered in Germany after World War II, but have not been returned to the descendants of their rightful owners. It is a very different provision from the one maintained by the Spanish State, the Ministry of Culture and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum regarding the return of the Rue Saint-Honoré painting in the afternoon. rain effect (1897), by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), to its legitimate owners, the Cassirer family. The public museum maintains a struggle in the US courts not to return the painting that was acquired by Baron Thyssen in the seventies.

In the US, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has just announced that it will return a valuable Dutch landscape from 1646, by the artist Salomon van Ruysdael (1602-1670), to the heirs of a Jewish-Hungarian politician and lawyer once it has been discovered. which was stolen from a bank vault in Budapest, during World War II.

The museum acquired the painting from a dealer in London in 1982, without knowing its full provenance. View of Beverwijk. In 2019, the historian Sandor Juhasz already warned the Boston museum that traces of the painting were incomplete and that it had belonged to a collector named Frigyes Glück, who died in 1931. The Hungarian industrialist, Ferenc Chorin, had bought it from Glük . The painting became part of the register of war losses in Hungary. The list in which the painting was included carried an image of the wrong painting. This further complicated their location.

Transparency and rights

Chorin founded the newspaper Magyar Nemzet to make the Hungarian governments see that they stayed away from Hitler’s Germany, long before he came to power. The businessman had converted to Christianity years earlier and helped Jews from Nazi-occupied territories who fled to Hungary. During World War II he deposited the masterpieces from his collection in the vault of the Best Hungarian Commercial Bank to protect them from bombing.

He was also one of the first people to be arrested under the Nazi occupation, in March 1944. He agreed to hand over his company to the Nazis in exchange for a safe exit from Hungary for him and his 40 family members, who settled in New York, where he died in 1964. The director of the museum, Matthew Teitelbaum, has assured that they have worked very quickly with the heirs of Ferenc Chorin “to repair this historical loss”. “The Return of the View of Beverwijk de Ruysdael underlines the importance of transparency and online access to our collection,” added the director.

Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer specializing in restitutions, has explained that the return to Chorin’s heirs from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a responsible practice. In cases where there is no question of theft, the return is clear. The heirs will auction the painting at the end of the year, whose value would reach 700,000 dollars.

The natural

An early 17th-century Dutch painting will also be returned to the heiress of Jacques Goudstikker, a former Amsterdam dealer whose gallery was looted in 1940 by the Nazis. The view is titled Ice skating (1610) and was among the nearly 1,100 stolen works, which were acquired by Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man.

Collector Martin Schunck bought the painting by artist Adam van Breen at auction two months after it was stolen. In 1987 it was bequeathed to the city of Trier, in southwestern Germany, and handed over to Marei von Saher, the Goudstikker heiress. Ice skating it could be seen hanging in the city’s museum until a researcher found it in the German government’s database of Nazi-looted art.

The director of the museum is Elisabeth Dühr and assures that the return of the work is “natural” once they discovered the story. “The City Council voted unanimously to return the work to its heiress,” she explained. Goudstikker was an influential Jewish merchant in Amsterdam between World War I and World War II. He fled the Netherlands by boat and died in an accident on board before reaching England. Before he escaped, he recorded his inventory in a black folder. So far, some 200 paintings stolen by Göring have been returned to the family. The Goudstikker Art Research Project still looking for more than 800 looted worksthanks to the annual subsidy of 90,000 euros per year that it receives from the German Foundation for Lost Art.

Two other Goudstikker paintings, from the 17th century, also appeared at auction in 2021 and agreements were reached with the auctionees for the restitution of the paintings. Since the Gurlitt case was uncovered in 2013 (a German dealer with a very active participation in the looting of works of art from French Jews during the Nazi occupation) there has been a change of will between the great European and North American museums. Everyone is checking their collections to find out where their assets come from. In addition, most countries signed the 1998 Washington Principles to return works looted by the Nazis. They consider that one way to repair the suffering suffered by the Jews was to return the looted heritage and from that moment the museums understood that they should not sue the relatives of the victims.