30 August 2011

Teaching provenance research at the Free University of Berlin

Free University, Berlin
Source: Wikipedia
Last April, the Free University of Berlin announced that it had initiated the first academic program in Germany on cultural plunder. Classes would be taught at the undergraduate level towards completion of a Bachelors of Art. However, no details were forthcoming about the actual nature of the program, the number of classes offered, the length of the program, the inter-disciplinary nature of the curriculum, and the scope of the content being offered to students.

As it turns out, the program itself, new as it is, is far from being that ambitious. In fact, it is a provenance research program. The novelty of teaching provenance research in an undergraduate setting is duly noted, but the fanfare surrounding the creation of the program might have been a bit over the top.

Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at what is actually being taught and by whom. The program addresses a number of broad themes: the historical background, the impact of National Socialist cultural policy; reparations and compensation (hopefully, restitution figures here as well); case studies of provenance research conducted for auction houses, museums, private collections and claimants; Art and the Law; Sources and Documentation. Students are expected to produce research papers and present their findings at the end of the course.

There is one lecture per week. A different specialist presents a specific topic at each lecture. The program is broken down into two segments; coursework in the first semester and independent archival research in the second semester.

Although the Third Reich orchestrated institutional acts of cultural plunder in every country that it occupied, the historical locus of the program remains Nazi Germany with some considerations given to collections stolen in other parts of Europe and to the methods of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).

As to the types of looted cultural objects being covered in the case studies, emphasis, as usual, is on paintings and works on paper, but other categories are also being addressed like furniture, accessories, and Judaica.

Subsequent to the program, the Free University of Berlin has organized three month internships for the students with institutions in Berlin, Leipzig and London. The lecture “Cultural and museum policies and the art market during the Nazi era”  was taught by Meike Hoffmann together with Andreas Hüneke. Together with Uwe Hartmann, she also taught the lecture “Galleries, private collections, dealers and collectors (Aryanization, confiscation and duress sales)” while visiting the exhibition “Gute Geschäfte. Kunsthandel in Berlin 1933-45 (A Good Business: The Art Trade in Berlin 1933-45)” which was on display at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin, 10 April-31 July 2011.

The following is a summary of the courses offered and a brief description:

Historical Background

"Looting during the Napoleonic wars and gaps in the historical record prior to the 20th century" Uwe Hartmann (AfP)

Presentation topics:
  • The effect of secularization (1803) on the art trade and the development of private and public collections.
  • Napoleon’s donations
"Cultural and museum policies and the art market during the Nazi era" Andreas Hüneke (Degenerate Art Research Centre, FU Berlin)

Presentation topics:
  • The law to re-establish the civil service (7.04.1933) and its impact on museum directors.
  • Auction houses and galleries during the Third Reich
  • Consequences of Nazi Cultural Policy
"'Degenerate Art' – seizure, confiscation and exploitation of modern art" Andreas Hüneke and Meike Hoffmann (Degenerate Art Research Centre, FU Berlin)

Presentation topics:
  • Confiscation of “degenerate art” at the museum of fine arts and applied arts in Halle in 1937.
  • The exploitation of “degenerate art” through the art dealer Bernhard A. Böhmer.
"Galleries, private collections, dealers and collectors (Aryanization, confiscation and duress sales)" Uwe Hartmann (AfP)

Presentation topics:
"Looted art and the art trade in occupied territory" Dr. Stephanie Tasch (Christie's)

Presentation topics:
Reparations and Compensation

"Public collections in Germany dealing with the burdened inheritance from1945 to the present (CCP – TVK – BADV)" Dr. Angelika Enderlein (BADV)

Presentation topic:
"Provenance research as a political task and moral responsibility (“Washington Principles”, “Joint declaration”, current debates)" Peter Müller (BKM - Federal Government for Culture and Media)

Presentation topics:

"Sumpflegende", Paul Klee
Source: Bloomberg
Case Studies

"Provenance research in the art trade" Isabel von Klitzing (Sotheby’s)

Presentation topics:
"Provenance research at the Berlin State Museums" Dr. Jörn Grabowski, Dr. Petra Winter (ZA SMB - Central Archive of the Berlin State Museums)

Presentation topics:
"Der Watzmann", Caspar David Friedrich
Source: Amazon.com
  • Caspar David Friedrich „Der Watzmann“ (1824/25). Acquired by the National Gallery in 1937 from Martin Brunn (Berlin)
  • Johann Erdmann Hummel „Bildnis Frau Luise Mila“ (around 1815). Acquired by the National Gallery from a private collection in 1937
"Provenance research for collectors or claimants" Nina Senger (Jacques Goudstikker collection)

Jacques Goudstikker
Source: Jüdisches Museum, Berlin
Presentation topics:
  • Hermann Göring and the confiscation of the Goudstikker collection
  • Just and Fair Solutions: Restitution of confiscated Jewish collections in Holland using the example of the Goudstikker collection
Art & Law

"Results of provenance research as a basis for court decisions or out-of-court settlements" Carola Thielecke (HV SPK)

Sources & Documentation

"Archival material, databases and further electronic resources in use for provenance research" Dr. Andrea Baresel-Brand (Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg) 

According to the 13 April 2011 press release accouncing the program, for more information, please contact:
Dr. Meike Hoffman
Freie Universität Berlin, Kunsthistoisches Institut, Forschungsstelle Entartete Kunst
Telefon: 030 / 838-54523
E-Mail: meikeh@zedat.fu-berlin.de

24 August 2011

An imaginary conversation about Grosz v. MOMA

"Max Hermann-Neisse"
All rights reserved, Estate of George Grosz,
 licensed by VAGA, New York;
 Image courtesy of Museum of Modern Art

In the August 24, 2011, issue of the New York Times, Patricia Cohen wrote an insightful article about the ramifications of the Grosz v. MOMA case which has pitted a venerable cultural mecca of New York City against the family of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated social and cultural critics, Georg Grosz. As the case bumbles along in favor of the Museum of Modern Art, it is worth musing over a number of points raised by Patricia Cohen. The floor is open for commentary and critiques alike. For further details, please refer back to Patricia Cohen’s article:

Patricia Cohen: “Museums are breaking their own ethics codes and causing the U.S. government to break its international commitments by invoking our courts to resolve Holocaust-era art claims on technical grounds rather than on the merits,” said Jennifer Anglim Kreder, co-chairwoman of the American Society of International Law’s Interest Group on Cultural Heritage & the Arts.

American museums have an obligation not to acquire or come into the possession of stolen cultural property, especially when they are the beneficiary recipients of Federal tax breaks which allow them, among other things, to raise unlimited sums to better serve their public and their donors. Unless otherwise stated, the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) remains the basic legal instrument by which one can order the seizure of stolen cultural property assuming one can prove beyond a doubt that the property is in fact stolen. For the past five years, the Federal government has successfully intervened in art ownership disputes through seizures of looted cultural items which have resulted in the restitution of those items to their rightful owners.

The US government has been playing with legal fire for decades by declining to apply its postwar international commitments to its own citizens by which property under its jurisdiction which is proven to have been stolen as a result of acts of duress, persecution, or other forms of discrimination during the Nazi era, should be returned to their rightful owners. To date, no one has sought to compel the Federal government to right those wrongs. Neither has anyone thought to challenge the Federal largess to American museums as a means of pressuring them into disgorging their looted cultural assets.

Patricia Cohen: The museum, which acquired the works in the 1950s, declined to comment because the case is being litigated. But it has maintained in court documents that, regardless of the timing issue, it has diligently researched the artworks’ provenance and has found no evidence that the works were looted by the Nazis or any basis for disputing their legitimate ownership.

Affidavits filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in Grosz v. MOMA show a pattern of deceit, distortion and withholding of key documents on the part of MOMA and its legal team. In other words, MOMA has not done its utmost to research the provenance of the works.
“Republican Automation”
All rights reserved, Estate of George Grosz,
licensed by VAGA, New York;
 Image courtesy of Museum of Modern Art

Patricia Cohen: Raymond J. Dowd, the Groszs’ lawyer, counters that the lower court considered inadmissible evidence and also failed to take into account a 1998 federal law that was intended to help Holocaust-era victims recover their assets.

Section 202 of The Holocaust Victims Redress Act (HVRA) of 13 February 1998 states the following:
“It is the sense of the Congress that consistent with the 1907 Hague Convention, all governments should undertake good faith efforts to facilitate the return of private and public property, such as works of art, to the rightful owners in cases where assets were confiscated from the claimant during the period of Nazi rule and there is reasonable proof that the claimant is the rightful owner.” 
By definition, a “sense of” declaration by Congress is non-binding and merely reflects the fact that a majority in Congress shares this view, without going any further. Hence, it is a bit wrong-headed to state that the Act is there to help victims recover their assets. It exists to exert moral suasion on a government that refuses to become engaged in the act of restitution of looted cultural assets. The same would apply to the Washington Principles of December 1998 and to the Terezin Declaration of June 2009. Interestingly enough, the HVRA did not invoke the 1954 Hague Convention.

Patricia Cohen: The Grosz heirs say that Flechtheim was only temporarily caring for the three works and that he was forced to sell or abandon his holdings because of the climate of terror created by Hitler’s regime. The accompanying paper trail that shows bills of sale, liquidation papers and letters, they add, was later fabricated or distorted to mask illicit dealings.

The Grosz case hinges in part on the historical definition of a so-called forced sale, a commercial act that would not have occurred had circumstances been entirely different, in other words, had there not been a pervasive environment of anti-Jewish persecution and harassment sponsored by the National Socialist State. Or, put more simply, if Georg Grosz were alive today, he would have answered “no” to the question: “Mr. Grosz, would you have sold your works of art had the Nazis not persecuted and harassed you for what you are and who you are?”

Patricia Cohen: MOMA, which obtained the two oil paintings and the watercolor at different times in the early 1950s, has said it was unaware of any doubts about the chain of ownership. Grosz himself saw the portrait of Herrmann-Neisse hanging on the museum’s walls in 1953, and wrote to his brother-in-law, “Modern Museum exhibits a painting stolen from me (I am powerless against that) they bought it from someone, who stole it.” Grosz, who died in 1959, never contacted the museum about regaining possession, however.

Therein lies the rub. Did Georg Grosz know that he was within his rights to claim the painting once he saw it hanging on MOMA’s walls? Was he aware of statutory limits placed on claims for stolen property? How omniscient does a victim have to be in order to knock some commonsense into the insensitive souls of museum officials bent on safeguarding what they view to be rightfully theirs even if the historical evidence does not bear them out?

Patricia Cohen: During the Nazi regime about 100,000 artworks were looted from public and private collections, including forced sales.

That estimate is indefensible, uncorroborated, and historically rootless. There were at the very least 100,000 artworks forcibly removed from German-occupied France alone. Since there were 19 countries that were invaded, occupied, or otherwise under Axis control between 1933 and 1945, you can do the math.

Patricia Cohen: To address some of the issues such looting raised, the United States and more than 40 other nations adopted the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which urge nations to decide claims “on the facts and merits” and to take historical circumstances into account when legal hurdles arise. American policymakers have frequently urged other countries to abide by these agreements.

Meanwhile, American policymakers have repeatedly refused to inject themselves into domestic ownership disputes involving cultural restitution claims, thus abandoning claimants to the formidable legal apparatus available to current possessors in the United States. Therein lies the failure of the Washington Conference of 1998 and all subsequent attempts at fostering greater understanding about looted art. How hypocritical can one be?

Patricia Cohen: In a keynote address at the Terezin conference, held in the Czech Republic, the leader of the United States delegation, Stuart E. Eizenstat, said he was concerned about the tendency to seek refuge in “technical defenses,” including the statutes of limitations.

Ambassador Eizenstat can express his many concerns for as long as he wishes but the truth remains that he does not lift a finger to apply his political weight on institutions like MOMA in the spirit of the Washington Conference of 1998 and the Holocaust-Era Assets Conference of June 2009 both of which he helped organize? Where are you, Ambassador Eizenstat, when claimants need you the most? Actions speak louder than words.

Patricia Cohen: Some lawyers who have represented MoMA and other museums in unrelated cases say that laws regarding time limits are not merely technical, but also speak to the question of whether it is possible to reconstruct an accurate historical record after a long lapse. Automatically giving claimants the benefit of the doubt can unfairly penalize honest and rightful owners, said Jo Backer Laird, a lawyer at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, a New York firm that represents MoMA and other museums but is not currently involved in any restitution cases.

It is not in the interest of current possessors, especially institutional holders of looted cultural property, to conduct extensive, exhaustive research into the provenance of cultural objects in their collections. A recent and well-publicized restitution by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts clearly shows that, even if there are gaps in the ownership history of a painting, the critical mass of information pointing to ownership by a claimant is sufficient to incite the current possessor to return the claimed item rather than invoking hurtful, self-centered, and morally and ethically unjustifiable legal defenses in order to prevail as the current possessor.

We have not heard the last from the Grosz case. Alea jacta est...

21 August 2011

Jacopo Zucchi, “The Bath of Bathsheba”: or how pieces of a story build a new story about the same story ex post facto

"The Bath of Bethsheba", Jacopo Zuchhi
Source: Lib-Art
In late July 1998, a painting by Jacopo Zucchi, “The Bath of Bathsheba”, returned to its rightful owner, the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, Italy, after it had graced the walls of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, CT, since 1965. This may seem like stale news but the story of the return itself exceeds the boundaries of time.

Let’s begin…

May 25, 1997: The Hartford Courant reviews the decision by the Wadsworth Atheneum to restitute the “Bath of Bathsheba” by Jacopo Zucchi to “its rightful owner,” the Italian Government, “as it should be.” The painting hung at the Wadsworth since 1965. Soviet troops had stolen the painting from the Italian Embassy in Berlin at the end of World War II. According to the journalist, the museum had no idea of the stolen origin of the painting at the time of its purchase.

April 23, 1998: Judith Dobrzynski, a reporter for the New York Times, indicates that the acquisition of the Zucchi painting by the Wadsworth spelled trouble for the museum “almost as soon as” it had acquired it, reminding the reader that the acquisition had been in “good faith from a Paris dealer.” The Wadsworth paid $35,000 in 1965. Thirty-two years later, the time it took to reach a settlement with the Italian government, the value of the painting had risen to $500,000. This is where we find out that the restitution to Italy came with a price attached to it: an exclusive on an exhibit of Carravaggio’s works entitled “Carravaggio and his Italian followers.” Ms. Dobrzynski duly noted that “the swap is not quite even.”

April 29, 1998: Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times expounds at length on the Carravaggio exhibit which resulted from the settlement with the Italian government noting somewhat surreally that the Italian government “offered an impressive loan” of paintings “in compensation for Hartford’s loss.” Extraordinary!

June 28, 1998: Stevenson Swanson of the Chicago Tribune reviewed the circumstances under which the Zucchi painting was returning to Italy. The word “restitution” is replaced by the word “settlement”, a settlement that the art world applauded. The director of the Commission for Art Recovery, Constance Lowenthal, hailed the settlement “as a wonderfully creative solution” which could serve as a model for other US museums. In other words, a qualified version of restitution is no longer a restitution. Or, was the Wadsworth solution a “restitution” or something else? Still, new details emerge about the circumstances under which the painting found its way in the hands of the Wadsworth. Presumably, Soviet officers in Berlin had sold the painting to an Italian businessman who then sold it to a Parisian art dealer. Once at the Wadsworth, after the Italian government made initial claims for the return of the painting, the Wadsworth had offered to sell it back to Italy, an odd way of acknowledging that it had acquired a stolen work of art. Peter Sutton, the Wadsworth director who engineered the “settlement” qualified it as a “pretty good deal and… the right thing to do.” The Italian government official who headed the negotiations expounded on how, for love of art, this arrangement served as “an enlightened example” how to recover lost works of art without going to court. An odd way for the rightful owner to describe a situation that should have placed it in the driver’s seat from the get-go. After all, the Wadsworth owned a stolen piece of Italian cultural property that had originated from a State-owned museum in Rome.

July 17, 1998: in the travel section of the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman provides a history of Jacopo Zucchi’s painting. We learn that, in 1908, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome lent the painting to the Italian Embassy in Berlin and that “Russian officers” had offered the painting for sale in 1947. After the purchase of the painting by the Wadsworth, the Italian government began to press for the return of the painting. Nothing happened until Peter C. Sutton became the director of the Wadsworth in 1996.

January 2001: An entry on art theft in Encyclopedia.com provides an intriguing detail about the “Wadsworth case”: a visitor to the Wadsworth recognized the Zucchi as the same painting which had hung in a “Berlin museum in the 1920s” until it disappeared into Soviet hands and reappeared on the Paris art market. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468303299.html

March 8, 2002: Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times, commenting on the return to the Krakow-based Czartoryski family of a late Medieval tapestry, contrasted the behavior of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) with that of the Wadsworth, wondering why LACMA stowed away the tapestry out of view of the public while the Wadsworth had shown the painting until its return to Italy. He did note, however, that “no credible argument can be made for keeping stolen art.” Agreed!

August 13, 2002: An online editorial posted by “Antiques and the Arts online” announces the creation of a Nazi-era provenance project at the Wadsworth funded by the Chase Family. Reference is made to the Zucchi painting, the fact that the Museum had acquired it in good faith from a Paris art dealer, who had obtained a lawful export license to ship it to the United States in 1965. The last comment is a subtle hint that the French government acquiesced in the legitimacy of the acquisition, thus adding credibility to an untainted provenance for the Zucchi painting. Strangely enough, the editorial points out that it wasn’t until 1997 that the Wadsworth acknowledged the looted origin of the painting.

January 27, 2004: An undergraduate student posts art-historical information about the Zucchi work, including the battle over its attribution to Zucchi as opposed to his mentor, Giorgio Vasari, which took place in 1925.

April 14, 2009: Using as a pretext a presentation at the Wadsworth Atheneum by Nancy Yeide, head of curatorial records at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, on Hermann Goering and his voracious collecting habits, Daniel D’Ambrosio provided some additional details about the Zucchi’s travails through Europe prior to reaching Hartford. The Paris art dealer who sold the work to the Wadsworth was François Heim did not disclose how he came into possession of the work, declaring simply that it had come from a private Italian collection.

We still do not know exactly what happened in Berlin in 1945, the identity of the seller to François Heim, and the details of the discussions between successive Italian governments and the Wadsworth over a thirty-two year period.

Winding back the clock to late 1997, the publication “Spoils of War” contained a statement by Mario Bondioli Osio, President of the Interministerial Commission for Artworks in Rome, who negotiated the “settlement” with the Wadsworth Atheneum for the return of the Zucchi in exchange for an exhibit of 29 works by Carravaggio and his friends. In this statement, Osio declared:

“Apparently sold in 1945 by Russian soldiers to a Wagon-lit employee, the "Bath of Bethsheba" by Jacopo Zucchi was offered by the same Wagon-lit employee to the Italian Embassy in Paris in 1947. The bureaucratic procedure for disbursing the 30,000 lire requested to the Italian government for the return of the painting was not positively concluded. The painting was subsequently sold to a Parisian art dealer and bought in good faith by the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1965. In 1970 it was identified as the masterpiece formerly in the Italian Embassy in Berlin by the Italian art expert Federico Zeri. Recognizing that it was "the right thing to do", the Board of Trustees of the Wadsworth Atheneum has resolved, in a formal resolution, "to a de-accession from the European Painting Collection ... the "Bath of Bethsheba" ... in order to restitute it to its proper owners, ... contingent upon the receipt and viewing of a loan exhibition.”

To summarize:

“The Bath of Batsheba/Bethseba”, by Jacopo Zucchi, an oil on canvas, painted in or around 1573, was loaned to the Italian Embassy in Berlin in 1908. In 1925, the painting was convincingly attributed to Jacopo Zucchi. Loaned to a Berlin museum in the 1920s, Federico Zeri, a noted Italian art historian, spotted the painting. As Allied troops choked the last pockets of resistance in and around Berlin in late April 1945, Soviet troops stormed the Italian Embassy, ransacked and plundered it. One of the items “liberated” by Soviet troops was the Zucchi painting. Soviet soldiers sold the painting to a sleeping-car train employee, who, two years later, took it to the Italian Embassy in Paris in 1947. The Italian government was unwilling to come up with the funds needed to buy back their own property, although it is uncertain whether or not the Embassy personnel knew that the painting belonged to their government. The year of sale to Heim is not indicated, although François Heim is one of the most important antique and old master dealers in Paris up through the 1970s. The Wadsworth acquires the painting from him in 1965, for which Heim obtains a license to export the work out of France.

It is not until 1970 when Federico Zeri visits the Wadsworth and spots the Zucchi, associating it with the painting that he had last seen in Berlin before the war. The Italian government initiates its claim for the return of the work as its rightful owner. The Wadsworth responds with an offer to sell the painting back to the Italians, arguing that it had bought it in good faith. The dialogue reaches a dead end until Peter Sutton’s arrival as director of the Wadsworth in 1996. Thirty-one years have now elapsed. In that intervening period, the Italian government has modified its tactics on how best to recover works and objects of art looted from its national collections during the Second World War. We have no way of knowing what transpired between the Wadsworth and Sgr. Osio. One thing is certain: the Wadsworth did not restitute the Zucchi painting to Italy. The Italian government, on the other hand, has adopted a strategy for the return of looted State-owned works which does not apply to works plundered from individual Italian citizens and whose works are in US collections. The Gentili family’s travails with US museums like the Princeton Art Museum and the Italian government are a case in point.

Custodian of plundered Jewish collections: the Landesmuseum in Mainz, Germany

Landesmuseum, Mainz
Source: Wikipedia
Like many museums in Germany, the Landesmuseum in Mainz holds in its collection hundreds of items that once belonged to German-born and foreign-born Jews alike living in and around Mainz.

These works ended up at the Landesmuseum Mainz in part as a result of confiscations orchestrated by Nazi fiscal authorities, especially the “Staatl. Finanzamt Mainz”, in 1941 and 1942 and the transfer of those confiscated cultural objects to the museum.  

Nazi authorities did not bother to associate the works with their victims which renders these cultural assets, a direct result of “internal” looting or plunder, as “heirless” or “unidentifiable”, until someone recognizes them and claims them on behalf of their family. Therefore, they are labeled as “Jüdischer Besitz” (Jewish collection). One can find a listing of these items in the Lost Art Internet Database overseen by the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg.

For the record, the vast majority of the Jewish population of Mainz was deported "nach dem Osten" by October 1942.

These orphaned works represent a wide range of topics and artistic styles. They consist largely of oil paintings, etchings, aquatints, and drawings.

Here are some of the artists’ names whose works were owned by these unknown Jewish owners, victims of Nazi persecution:
Last but not least: one oddity that is featured on the website of the Landesmuseum Mainz—a 1908 gouache on paper by Pablo Picasso (Frauenkopf/Tête de femme/Head of a woman). In and of itself, it is not an anomaly, but the partial history behind its entry into the Mainz Museum’s collection begs for additional research. It was a gift made by Raymond Schmittlein, former director of educational programs and culture in the French zone of Occupation of Germany, in 1952. A detailed provenance of the work might clarify how Schmittlein came into possession of the object so that one need not worry about its status.

Head of a woman, Pablo Picasso
Source: Landesmuseum, Mainz

14 August 2011

"Le déjeûner sur l’herbe" by Claude Monet almost plundered?

Claude Monet, the icon of French Impressionism, slaved for over a year painting a picnic on the grass with well-dressed men and women, all friends of the artist, enjoying a sunny day and a well-stocked meal. “Le déjeûner sur l’herbe”, painted somewhere between 1865 and 1866 remained in Monet’s possession until the end of his life. Lousy storage conditions produced mildew damage in corners of the work which Monet had to slice off twenty years after painting this masterpiece.

Le déjeûner sur herbe, Claude Monet
Source: Musée d'Orsay
His son, Michel Monet, inherited the work upon his father's death in 1926 together with many other paintings which Claude had either refused to sell or could not sell in his lifetime, leaving him in recurring debt and constantly on the brink of total destitution. And yet…

Michel Monet
Source: Giverny News
Right about the time of the German invasion of France in the spring of 1940, Michel Monet lent the painting to the Louvre for an exhibit being organized on the hundredth anniversary of Monet’s birth, “Le Centenaire de Claude Monet.”

And then came the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and its swashbuckling local dignitary, SS Colonel von Behr, former director of the German Red Cross.

Von Behr, in all his anti-Semitic wisdom, received word that the “Déjeûner sur l’herbe” belonged to a Jewish collection named André Weil. He ordered the painting removed from the Louvre and transferred to the Jeu de Paume for “disposal.” Meanwhile, a more pragmatic “cultural official” in the newly-installed German military administration (Militärbefehlshaber für Frankreich), member of the Kunstschutz, realized that the ERR was making a big mistake and that the painting belonged to Monet’s son, Michel Monet, and should be returned to him forthright.

Reason prevailed at least in those early days of cultural plundering in German-occupied Paris. On 17 December 1940, the “Déjeûner sur l’herbe” was returned to its rightful owner and was put on display as part of his late father’s legacy to art and to culture.

Other works and other collectors were not so lucky.

Thank God for Michel Monet! He was not Jewish.

“Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berri”—still missing?

The basic facts:

When the Nazis steal everything there is to steal from the dozen or so members of the French branch of the Rothschild family between the summer of 1940 and 1944, part of their haul includes rare—one of a kind—medieval manuscripts, including those manuscripts custom-made for French nobility like “Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berri.”

Labeled R 974 by the ERR, the manuscript is shipped out from the Jeu de Paume to the Reich. Nothing more can be said about where it went… until 1951.

R 974
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
Lane Faison, the last director of the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP) in what was the US zone of Occupation of Germany, wrote to a Dr. Haars about this rarest of books, wondering if the Gothic manuscript in question had ended up at the MCCP or at the Rare Book repository of Berchtesgaden or still sihpped by Goering on the so-called “Overing Train.”  There is only one location in Germany known as Overing; it is in the eastern suburbs of Bremen in northwestern Germany.

An equally appealing tidbit comes to us from Faison about Gisela Limberger, Goering’s former private secretary and unofficial curator of the Goering Collection who herself misappropriate 11 crates of silver and china from the Jeu de Paume. According to Faison, Limberger contacted Rose Valland, France’s Resistance hero who selflessly sacrificed four years of her young life in Nazi-occupied Paris at the Jeu de Paume recording movements of stolen works in and out of the museum. Or was it Valland who contacted Limberger? No matter, Limberger let out that the manuscript might have ended up at Berchtesgaden which prompted Faison to ask Haars about its present whereabouts.

R 974
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
Sadly, one can conclude that, unless the Rothschilds recovered the manuscript after 1951, it is still missing. This brief note is a wonderful example of how small strands of communication can provide numerous insights into the workings and dynamics of plunder and restitution.

However, the ERR card identifies the manuscript as both a "Tagebuch" and "Stundenbuch."  One question to raise is: if there are several versions of the manuscript, which is it since the most elaborate of the duc de Berry's manuscript lies at the Institut de France in Paris?

By the way, who was/is Dr. Haars? There is no indication of title, rank, organization with whom he was affiliated. One tantalizing clue: a Dietrich Haars and his wife acquired a book business in Winsen (south of Hamburg) in 1951.

R 974
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

13 August 2011

De Al-Ándalus al Jeu de Paume: Una lección de procedencia, estilo valenciano

por Martin Terrazas

"La mejor cerámica del siglo XV", C. Velasco
Fuente: Las Provincias
Después de los primeros saqueos dramáticos de las colecciones judías más importantes en la región parisina durante el verano y otoño de 1940 por la infantería de la Embajada de Alemania en Paris (los Geheime Feld Polizei—literalmente, policía secreta campestre—o GFP), se apoderaron los Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) del saqueo manejado por los nazis de arte origen propietario judío en la Francia ocupada, tanto como en todos los territorios invadidos por las tropas alemanes. En París, historiadores de arte y expertos del ERR analizaron a miles de objetos decorativos cuyos pertenecen a individuales como Jean A. Seligmann y sus hermanos André y Arnold; Edouard, James-Armand, Alexandrine, Guy, Henri, y Philippe de Rothschild; los hermanos Bacri, Georges Wildenstein, y Paul Rosenberg. Entre estos objetos, cuales las entidades habían confiscados y transferidos primero al Louvre y de allí al Jeu de Paume, fueron objetos de arte decorativo inapreciables y, en particular, alfarería de Valencia (España).

Que parece como cerámica sencilla, de color azul y blanco, esconde una plétora de líneas de trama. Estos objetos de arte decorativo tiene una historia única, urdiendo cultura y tiempo juntos, quizás en muchas maneras, venir la SGM, sus dueños judíos y saqueadores fascistas no sabían.

Mientras muchos académicos trazan la artesanía a los abasidas de Sāmarrā’, abajo el reino de Jaume II de Aragón el Justo, la tradición fue llevado de Al-Ándalus, en particular las ciudades capitales de Córdoba y Granada y centros de fábrica de Triana y Úbeda, a las orillas de la Turia (Guadalaviar). Abajo sus católicos adoptados, esta cerámica elaborada a mano saltó a la fama mundial, ayudó el puerto de Valencia llegar ser una parada principal en el Mediterráneo, y creyó una industria cerámica española que a pesar de varios cambios gubernamentales, una guerra civil sangrienta, dictadura, subcontratación internacional, depresión económica, y indiferencia por las generaciones siguientes, todavía se mantiene en lugares cómo Manises, Paterna, Alcora, Muel, Villafeliche, Talavera de la Reina, Puente del Arzobispo, Barcelona y Reus.

Jacques Seligmann y Co.:

Large faience platter (Manises), 17th c.
Fuente: Proyecto ERR via Bundesarchiv

Faience jar with handles, 17th c.
Fuente: Proyecto ERR via Bundesarchiv

From Al-Andalus to the Jeu de Paume: A Lesson in Provenance, Valencia Style

by Martin Terrazas

After initial dramatic seizures of major Jewish collections in the Paris region during the summer and fall of 1940 by the foot soldiers of the German Embassy in Paris (the Geheime Feld Polizei—literally, Secret Field Police—or GFP), the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) seized control of the Nazi-ordered plunder of Jewish-owned art in occupied France, as well as in all territories overrun by German troops. In Paris, the ERR art historians and experts came upon thousands of decorative objects owned by the likes of Jean A. Seligmann and his brothers André and Arnold; Edouard, James-Armand, Alexandrine, Guy, Henri, and Philippe de Rothschild; the Bacri brothers, Georges Wildenstein, and Paul Rosenberg. Among those objects which their units had confiscated and transferred first to the Louvre and from there to the Jeu de Paume, were priceless decorative art objects and in particular ceramics from Valencia, Spain.

What seems like simple, blue-and-white ceramics holds a plethora of plot lines. These decorative objects have a unique history, warping cultures and time together, perhaps in many ways that, come World War II, their Jewish owners and Fascist looters had not previously known.

While many scholars trace the craft back to the Abbasids in Sāmarrā’, under the reign of Jaume II of Aragon, the tradition was brought from Al-Andalus, in particular its capitals of Córdoba and Granada and manufacturing centers of Triana and Úbeda, to the banks of the Turia (Guadalaviar). Under its Catholic adoptees, this hand-crafted pottery gained worldwide fame, helped Valencia’s port become a principal Mediterranean shipping call, and created a Spanish ceramic industry that despite various governments, bloody civil war, dictatorship, outsourcing, economic depression, and indifference by younger generations, is still maintained today in places such as Manises, Paterna, L’Alcora, Muel, Villafeliche, Talavera de la Reina, Puente de Arzobispo, Barcelona and Reus.

From the Rothschild Collection, Paris, France:

Spanish-Moorish vase, 16th c.
Source:ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
Spanish-Moorish Plate, ca. 1429
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

Spanish-Moorish majolica plate, 16th c.
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

Spanish-Moorish plate, early 17th c.
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

07 August 2011

Krakow (May 2009), Prague (June 2009), and beyond (2009-2011): Anything new?

In mid-May 2009, a dozen individuals from the United States and Europe, mostly lawyers, one historian, and several representatives of the art market, met in a classroom in the former home of General Governor Hans Frank on the outskirts of Krakow, Poland. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a statement that might offer an alternative to the impending, inevitable Holocaust Era Assets Conference of Prague, scheduled for June 26-30, 2009.

After a day and a half, compromise was in the air, rebellious spirits subsided, and in the interest of pragmatism, a declaration was hashed out to be presented in some form or another at the Prague Conference.

Six weeks later, delegates from more than 45 countries and representatives of international non-governmental organizations, cobbled together a lengthy declaration branded with the name of one of Nazi Germany’s most perverse concentration camp experiments, Terezin. The Terezin Declaration gave top priority to the salvage of the neediest of the neediest amongst the dwindling population of Jewish Holocaust survivors around the globe. Coming almost at the end was a statement about looted art which echoed in an even more diluted manner the Krakow Declaration of May 2009.

The international community pledged to meet its obligations towards survivors and put into place national and international mechanisms to settle property questions, including cultural assets. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs established an European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), of which the initial mission was and continues to be to monitor the implementation of the Terezin Declaration and make recommendations on how best to accomplish that mission, providing annual reports on developments in signatory nations with respect to restitution, reparations, compensation, and aid to needy survivors. The implementation of the Terezin Declaration involves five major areas of activity, including looted cultural assets and Judaica.

Let’s take a look at where we are with respect to our favorite issue—looted art. One way to assess the situation is by looking at the relevant statements of the Krakow Declaration and the Terezin Declaration and measure them against concrete accomplishments recorded since July 1, 2009.

Aid to research:

Krakow: Exclusive government control of research into provenance and title issues and the failure to permit, encourage and enable independent research is not acceptable. We therefore urge nations to provide adequate funds to facilitate independent research and to make such research available to the general public.

The Terezin Declaration is mum on this point. As of now, the only countries which are funding provenance research at any scale are Germany and Austria.

Claims resolution:

Krakow: Taking into consideration the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, we urge all parties to ensure that claims to recover looted art are resolved expeditiously and based on the facts and merits of the claims, having taken into account legal, moral and other considerations, in order to achieve just and fair solutions.

Here, the Terezin Declaration is explicitly silent, but implicitly whispers something to the effect that mechanisms must be put into place for claimants. Nevertheless, despite the rare rulings coming from national restitution commissions (Holland, Germany, Austria), claimants are still forced to seek redress before the courts of their respective nations in expensive litigations. To date, no measures have been taken to alleviate the legal burden that befalls those who seek the return of their cultural property.

Cultural property and exports:

Krakow: Export control, cultural heritage and citizenship laws should not be applied to prevent the return of property to Holocaust victims. It is unjust for a country that took or came into possession of Holocaust looted property to keep it.

The Terezin Declaration ignores this point. All nations have invoked their cultural patrimony laws to prevent restituted property from leaving their territory under the pretext that those items belong to the cultural heritage of their nations. A tactic that has been used for decades now, during and after the Second World War. It is a perverse attack on the rights of individuals to be reunited with their cultural possessions and a clear abuse of power by nations seeking to prevent cultural items from being returned to their rightful owners.

Restitution laws:

Krakow: We urge nations to enact or modify laws and regulations to authorize the restitution of looted Holocaust cultural property to the rightful owners in appropriate cases.

Terezin: Where it has not already been done, we also recommend the establishment of mechanisms to assist claimants and others in their efforts,

As can be seen, the Terezin Declaration is a meek version of the Krakow declaration. However, let us not fool ourselves. Short of someone wielding a supranational equivalent of a nuclear detonator to convince nations to amend their laws so as to facilitate restitution procedures, there will be no amendments or new laws passed until the international community acts with one voice. It may very well be that an absence of political will at the national level might compel political solutions at supranational levels.

Legal impediments to restitution:

Krakow: Where statutes of limitations or prescription laws prevent the restitution of looted Holocaust property, they should be waived or exceptions for Holocaust looted property should be made in appropriate cases.

Terezin passed over this very delicate topic which constitutes the biggest legal impediment for anyone seeking a measure of justice in any asset category that was plundered during the Second World War. In some nations, stolen items can be converted after the passage of time into legitimately owned objects.


Krakow: We urge nations to conduct systematic surveys of works of art and other cultural objects in their collections, produce inventories of this property and make them available to the general public.

As expected, no one at the Prague Conference sought to press for the creation of inventories, a demand that has been largely unmet since the first calls for such inventories in the months that followed the collapse of the Third Reich. To date, inventories are fragmentary, incomplete, difficult to use and not updated.

Provenance research:

Krakow: We urge nations to conduct systematic provenance research and make the results available to the public.

Terezin: In particular, recognizing that restitution cannot be accomplished without knowledge of potentially looted art and cultural property, we stress the importance for all stakeholders to continue and support intensified systematic provenance research, with due regard to legislation, in both public and private archives, and where relevant to make the results of this research, including ongoing updates, available via the internet, with due regard to privacy rules and regulations.

Provenance research is one area where one can say that there has been progress, albeit limited. Efforts in most nations are not inspired by their governments, but rather by museum professionals, as in the United States, for instance. Fragmentary as they may be, those limited efforts when combined are proving the point—that concerted, coordinated international action must be carried out to facilitate complex research on individual objects, their owners, the dealers and institutions that carried them over time.

Conflict resolution in claims disputes:

Krakow: We urge nations to provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms using qualified and independent experts.

Terezin: Keeping in mind the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, and considering the experience acquired since the Washington Conference, we urge all stakeholders to ensure that their legal systems or alternative processes, while taking into account the different legal traditions, facilitate just and fair solutions with regard to Naziconfiscated and looted art, and to make certain that claims to recover such art are resolved expeditiously and based on the facts and merits of the claims and all the relevant documents submitted by all parties. Governments should consider all relevant issues when applying various legal provisions that may impede the restitution of art and cultural property, in order to achieve just and fair solutions, as well as alternative dispute resolution, where appropriate under law.

Although there is an apparent overlap between the two declarations, lawyers and policymakers alike have warped the concept of a ‘just and fair solution”. Just and fair for whom? More likely than not, for the current possessor who is still viewed as an innocent party in the restitution process. Therefore, one needs to proceed with caution when promoting alternative dispute resolutions because fairness is in the eye of the beholder. By the way, there is nothing expeditious about the settlement of a cultural claim.

Access to archival records:

Krakow: Acknowledging that provenance research has priority over individual privacy protection, we urge nations to open all public records and archives pertaining to the looting of cultural property through various means including theft, coercion, abandonment, forced sales, and sales under duress; to make them accessible to researchers and the public, and to provide incentives for the accessibility of privately-owned archives.

The Terezin declaration might have implicitly supported access to archival records, both public and private. But, in order to achieve fair and just solutions, all relevant records must be made available and released so that all parties can equally benefit from the wisdom contained in those documents, be they letters, receipts, lists, telegrams, reports. Access to public records is going much faster than the facilitation of conflict resolution or provenance research. But private records remain locked behind closed doors, which is a detriment both to the art trade and to the general understanding of the history of ownership of cultural objects over time and space. Here too, political action and creative solutions might be needed to widen access to privately-held archives.


Krakow: All nations should monitor restitution activity and make public annual reports on the making and resolution of claims and supply to the public accurate information about looted Holocaust property.

Although the Terezin Declaration omits this idea completely, it is contained in the generic recommendation for a post-Prague 2009 initiative—encapsulated by the creation of the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI). However, there has yet to be any distinctive output from ESLI on this and related matters since its founding two years ago.


Krakow: We urge all nations to create facilities where information is available on restitution procedures in other countries.

ESLI is supposed to be one of the key facilities through which information can be found on the practice of restitution in countries that participated in Washington in 1998 and in Prague in 2009. Still, no word from ESLI. Everyone is anxiously waiting for product.

Where do we go from here?

That is an excellent question. So far, there are no good answers that translate into effective strategies.

It might very well be that, in order to move forward on all fronts, drastic measures and severe medication are needed to protect the rights of claimants, to ensure fair and equitable processes for deciding on the fate of claimed objects, and to raise the general level of awareness amongst specialists and laypersons alike as to the mechanisms of cultural plunder and its long-term impact on civil society.