20 July 2011

Nazi art historians and the Netsuke


by Marc Masurovsky

Life at the Jeu de Paume for any art historian would have been the closest thing to working in an aesthetic playpen. Every day, new shipments of stolen cultural property entered the Jeu de Paume. Your job was to examine, sort, describe, card, index, and prepare these items either for shipment or for sale.

The Japanese netsuke (根付) are a case in point.

Dr. Boschert and Ms. Tomforde at the Jeu de Paume processed cultural objects produced in the Far East which had been looted from Jewish homes in and around Paris. Those objects coming from "unidentifiable owners" were catalogued under the acronym MA-OST (Möbel-Aktion).

Judging by the photographs that were taken at the Jeu de Paume, Boschert and Tomforde indulged themselves in a comparative examination of the netsuke. Indeed, items classified as MA-OST were comingled with items from the RHE collection in staged group photographs. RHE objects belonged to Maurice Rheims, a highly respected French art historian and auctioneer at famed Hôtel Drouot in Paris.

The Rheims netsuke together with the rest of his art and artifact collection arrived at the Jeu de Paume in November 1942 while the MA-OST items were catalogued on 1 February 1943. The photographs were taken before their shipment to the ERR depot of Buxheim.

For more details concerning these and other netsuke, please go to www.errproject.org/jeudepaume. Type in "netsuke" in the search box.

RHE and MA-OST
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
RHE and MA-OST
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
RHE and MA-OST
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
Mennetsuke (面根付) in RHE and MA-OST
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv