At the end of World War II, about 61,000 paintings, sculptures and other objects stolen by the Nazis were returned to France. In the post-war period, about 45,000 of them were handed over to the survivors and heirs. But thousands more were sold, and the rest remained in the funds of state collections. These French museums know them as “orphans”. Also in the Louvre. That is why in 2020 they hired Emmanuel Polak, a specialist in the investigation of Nazi robberies.
The commission was to create a detailed record of works from this illegal collection. Polatsk is an expert at tracking down goods and looking for history of passing from auction catalogs, galleries, neighbors, backs of paintings, correspondence… Her maternal grandfather was deported and killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp. His paternal grandfather was taken prisoner and his property looted. Polak received recognition for his research, which led to the discovery of about 1,500 works of art hidden by Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand, bought art for Hitler.
This Tuesday, the Prado National Museum made a historic announcement by recognizing in its collections no less than 64 works stolen by the Franco regime and brought to the museum 80 years ago, in 1942. He also hired explorer Arturo Colorado to go through all his collections in three months and turn in a report on all stolen goods. In December 2018, Colorado hosted a series of conferences on the subject at the Prado. But then the museum did not bother to check their catalogs. Only a week ago, the institution carried out an urgent search when elDiario.es asked about the status of these works.
A year and a half ago, the Louvre published an investigation by Emmanuel Polak that resulted in a catalog of more than 1,700 works of art stolen by the Nazis and returned to France at the end of the war. This was not the first step taken by the French institution to find the owners and heirs of “orphan” paintings. In 2017, the head of the painting department, Sebastien Allard, held two small exhibitions at the museum, which featured about thirty stolen paintings. The intention was to draw attention to the true owners and return the pieces: “Our goal is to return everything we can,” Allard said at the time.
The Louvre discovered several stolen paintings belonging to the French-Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville, who fled Paris under duress before the Nazis confiscated his collection and auctioned it off in Nice in 1942. The Louvre purchased 12 works from this sale. Eight decades later, the matter was still unresolved and the heirs appeared before the government, which assured them that the purchase had been made “without coercion or violence”.
Finally, the government reversed its position, and in January 2022, the French National Assembly considered a bill to restore a total of 14 Dorville works of art held in public funds. Among the returned works was Gustav Klimt’s Rosales Under the Trees. She was exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay. Former Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelo pointed out that 83 years after the forced sale of works, “an act of justice” must be done. However, for more than two decades, the French Ministry of Culture and several state museums have received requests for restitution from the heirs of the original owners, which have been granted. So far, they have returned more than a hundred works.
As in Spain, the French administration decided for a long time not to act ex officio and waited for the heirs to claim their rights. However, since 2017 museums have decided that they should investigate the provenance of the works and determine who stole them. Then these hidden and hushed paintings from the forties became public, and most French museums took part of their history in order to restore it.
This position is very different from the position supported by the Spanish State, the Ministry of Culture and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum regarding the return of the painting from Rue Saint-Honore in the afternoon. Rain Effect (1897) by Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) to its rightful owners, the Cassirer family. The State Museum is fighting in the US courts not to return the painting acquired by Baron Thyssen in the 1970s.
The investigation did not stop at the main French museum. A year ago, the Louvre and Sotheby’s signed an agreement to continue examining merchandise acquired by the museum between 1933 and 1945. The agreement will run for three years, during which time the sponsorship will allow the French institution’s collections to be explored to “restore the works and make them public,” the Louvre said. In fact, Sotheby’s became the first international auction house to create a department dedicated to research on provenance and restitution.
In the US, they also have a longstanding advantage in restitution of works stolen during the war. Last month, New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law a law requiring museums to label exhibited works of art as stolen by the Nazis. The goal is for these posters to raise awareness and combat ignorance about the Holocaust and its aftermath. This is a state educational standard that is not aimed at restitution.
Silence is the food of oblivion, and a Claims Conference poll two years ago found that 60% of New Yorkers did not know that six million Jews had been murdered. 58% could not name a single concentration camp, and 43% did not know what Auschwitz was. Another 19% believed that Jews were the cause of the Holocaust. “The whole idea of this law is to reach as many people as possible and let them know that these wonderful works of art are stained with blood,” said Charles Lavin, Democratic member of the New York State Assembly. a few days ago, weeks ago, when the rule was approved. Killing to destroy Jewish identity was accompanied by the usurpation of wealth to finance their goals. Some events not related to the Spanish population of the forties.
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