Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
The “Patrimoine National” is literally the “national heritage,” a fluid concept applied to any item that is deemed to be incorporated into the heritage of a nation. Although this is not the time to engage in a full-scaled discussion of what is worthy of being considered as part of the national heritage, suffice it to say that the definition is highly malleable and subject to the fleeting whims of governments. However, once an object enters the “patrimoine national,” it is unlikely that it leaves it…ever. If the item turns out to have been looted during a military conflict or, worse, an act of genocide, regardless, restitution is nigh impossible because the “patrimoine national” trumps the rights of individuals if they seek restitution of items that have become part of the heritage of a nation.
None of the items could be officially linked to a particular owner as they were labeled by the Germans as MA-B (Möbel-Aktion Bilder) or Unb (Unbekannt)… except for one.
Slight oversight on the part of the French government or just plain sloppiness?
The item in question was labeled “KS 538 – 6432.” It was described as a cartel signed by the French painter Prud’hon and entitled “Femme au bain.”
Source: MCCP Database via Bundesarchiv
Source: ERR Project via NARA
Let’s go back to the initial sentence which indicates that the CRA did not consider the painting to be part of the “Patrimoine National.” What would have happened if the CRA had ruled the Seligmann painting as belonging to the “Patrimoine national”? It would have been incorporated into a French museum collection. What about the rights of the Seligmann family to recover this work of art even if the CRA considered it to be part of the “Patrimoine National”? One has to wonder if the CRA even bothered to notify families whose works were deemed to be worthy of inclusion in the “Patrimoine National”?
More importantly, how does a French government agency decide whether or not a work of art is a work of art?