20 June 2011

The Leopold Museum strategy regarding Nazi art claims

The Leopold Museum in Vienna has just settled another looted art case with the family of a former Czech citizen from Brno, Moriz Eisler.

Several points stand out in the way in which the story was reported by Catherine Hickley for Bloomerg News.
  1. the Leopold Museum presumes that the works in its collection were acquired in good faith. That stance alone is extraordinary in view of the checkered history of its late founder, Dr. Rudolpf Leopold, who amassed a collection of works by Schiele that had once belonged to Jewish families. And he, like anyone else, was well aware of what had happened to those families.

    Good faith usually means that the acquirer of the work of art did not ask questions and did not really worry about the origin of the art object that he or she was purchasing.  In most cases, good faith rested on willful ignorance, writ large, ignorance of history, ignorance of the past, ignorance of one's environment, ignorance of the fact that twelve years of Nazi rule, a Holocaust, and a global war, occurred which might have disrupted the normal chains of ownership and cost the lives of the owners of the works being acquired "in good faith."

    As the 1960s saying goes, "ignorance is bliss."

  2. Since Dr. Leopold’s death last year, his son, Diethard Leopold, pledged to settle all outstanding claims against the Leopold Museum pertaining to looted art from the Holocaust era. Although he is making good on his pledge, settling is not restituting. Moreover, the strategy of settlement is predicated on his argument that the Museum holds art acquired in good faith. Had it not been purchased in good faith, the legal strategy might be a bit different or, at least, more exacting on the Museum. There is nothing new in waving money at claimants, especially when the alternative, seeking restitution, can become very costly due to the refusal of cultural institutions like the Leopold Museum to even consider restitution as a plausible means of "doing the right thing." Look at how long it took to settle the “Walli’ case.
If the Leopold family’s settlement strategy is a harbinger of things to come, few works of art will be restituted to their rightful owners.

The question of the day is:

Does the offer of a financial settlement carry within it the denial of restitution?

"Protestaktion vor dem Leopold Museum: 'Restituieren!'",  22 Jun 2011
Source: Der Standard
"Protestaktion vor dem Leopold Museum: 'Restituieren!'", 22 Jun 2011
Source: Der Standard
"Protestaktion vor dem Leopold Museum: 'Restituieren!'", 22 Jun 2011
Source: Der Standard
"Protestaktion vor dem Leopold Museum: 'Restitueren!'", 22 Jun 2011
Source: Der Standard

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