24 April 2011

Looted art in Italy

Although the more than 48 postwar Italian governments have been focused largely on what the Germans removed from Italy during their two-year occupation of the country, little attention has been paid to looted art entering the Italian art market from Western Europe, Switzerland, and Austria.

Italian art dealers are an expert lot with ties to galleries, museums, and collectors around the world, namely in Europe and the Americas. Despite the rise to power of Benito Mussolini in 1922 and the instauration of a Fascist government, normal trade relations and cultural exchanges persisted well into the 1930s between the new Italy and its neighbors, even as far away as the United States.

After the German invasion of Western Europe in spring 1940 and the systematic plundering of hundreds of Jewish collections that ensued over the next four years, Italian galleries were busily entering into the fray as possible avenues of recycling loot. Capitalizing on their privileged relations with art experts and museum officials from Nazi Germany, these Italian dealers were only too glad to be paid in kind with modernist and especially Impressionist works, in exchange for which they offered Italian and other Old Masters to German agents. Italian dealers like Ventura and Bonacossi were more than willing to adapt to the German way of trading art: My Bellotto for 2 Monets. Joke aside, this is as close to the truth as one can get when it comes to these exchanges.

The following works were used to pay off Italian dealers in exchanges brokered by Goering’s favorite art specialist, Walther Andreas Hofer:

A painting by Sisley belonging to the Lindon family in Paris;

Three paintings by Monet, one belonging to Lindon, the other two to Paul Rosenberg;

One painting by Renoir belonging to Paul Rosenberg;

One painting by Degas belonging to Paul Rosenberg;

One painting by Cézanne belonging to Alphonse Kann of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.