14 October 2018

Washington Principle #7: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #7
Pre-War owners and their heirs should be encouraged to come forward and make known their claims to art that was confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted.

In June 2011, we noted the following:

“There is nothing good to be said about Principle VII except for the fact that there are no solid mechanisms put into place to allow all owners to come forward and make their claims known regardless of socio-economic background. It is one thing to make their claims known, but the purpose of publicizing a claim is to obtain justice. Principle VII is uninformed and useless until effective national and international public policies are enacted to systematize the processes inherent to this principle and protective of the rights of claimants to seek redress without penalties.”

Seven years later, there has not been substantial progress in establishing mechanisms for “pre-war owners and their heirs to come forward.” Those who are directly related to the victims of plunder are now the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In other words, they are three to four times removed from the crime and the loss suffered during the Third Reich. What little memory of the events stayed with the victims proper has all but vanished and few of those evidentiary strands have been transmitted to the next generation so that it can sue for redress.

The more likely path is from the outside—researchers, genealogists, aggressive lawyers, historians and the like—are those more likely to stumble on the evidence of the crime and the losses suffered by individuals. These external players are more likely than not to contact the heirs of the pre-war owners with the evidence of their losses. For a fee, unfortunately. In this regard, governments have created little monsters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, by not rising above the fray and taking on the mantle of justice for the victims of plunder. Leaving the field wide open for entrepreneurs and private sector players to set the rules for how research is conducted and, more importantly, how claims are to be handled and prosecuted.

Seven years after our initial assessment of the effectiveness of Principle #7, it is time to call it for what it is—a total failure and an open invitation for profiteering at the expense of the claimants, of history and of justice.

Principle #7 could be rewritten and expanded as follows:

The parties signatory to the Washington Principles of December 3, 1998, must ensure that all efforts will be made to disseminate information to as wide public as possible regarding the mechanisms by which pre-war owners and their heirs can make their claims known. Also, pre-1933 owners and their heirs must be encouraged to submit their claims for artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

10 October 2018

Washington Principle #6: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #6
VI. Efforts should be made to establish a central registry of such information.


“a central registry”:

The best way to kill an idea is to promote it and then abandon it. Ever since the “art restitution” movement kicked up some dust, there was talk of creating a central database of all art losses suffered by Jewish owners between 1933 and 1945. As the saying goes, talk is cheap while money talks. In the heady days of the late 1990s, much like the frightening realities which have set in worldwide as of 2016, it was easy to discuss the creation of a central database—a digital registry—of all cultural losses because no one had done it and, to accomplish this minor feat, one needed access to documents and lots of them (Principle #2), as well as a heap of resources and personnel (Principle #3). Since neither were forthcoming, then and now, twenty years later, the proposal put forth by the framers of the Principles is somewhat disingenuous.

After all, do they understand what effort it takes to undertake a central registry of all art
“confiscated” and displaced by the Nazis and their allies? It is a massive undertaking, which requires international cooperation, international partners, staff at multiple sites, a rugged online database, even more rugged servers, and teams of data extractors and data entry specialists. In 2018 dollars, a multi-million dollar affair. In 1998 dollars, it would have been much cheaper to accomplish.

The arguments around a central registry are legendary and date back to the aftermath of WWII when some of the Allied cultural advisers working in Munich, Germany, were bemoaning the fact that there was no central card index of art losses available for them to use as a reference source.

That discussion of a central registry died miserably especially when it became obvious that large postwar NGOs like the recently-established UNESCO did not succeed in taking over from the Allied powers the mantle of documenting and researching art losses suffered by victims of Nazism and Fascism.

In the 1990s, the idea has been repeatedly pooh-poohed as too expensive, impossible to undertake, and so forth. Meanwhile, as the arguments linger on from year to year, nothing gets done, which seems to be the point, no? So, proposing a central registry of art losses is tantamount to crying: The King is dead! Long live the King!—Substitute queen for king if that is your preference. In other words, it will not get done by the signatories of the Washington Principles because they have no interest in such a project. Why did they agree to it? Why sign off? Because it was easier to sign off than to challenge the idea, a hint that the intention to transform the principles into “hard law” never existed.

In June 2011, we noted that, based on the evidence, “Principle #6 is hereby decreed to be an unadulterated sham.” We still believe it today.

Principle #6 could be rewritten and broadened as follows:

Efforts shall be made to establish a central, fully searchable and interactive digital repository of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and their Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Washington Principle #5: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #5:
V. Every effort should be made to publicize art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted in order to locate its pre-War owners or their heirs.

“Every effort should be made to publicize”:

Whose job is it in the first place to do so?

It’s a nice idea but effort takes …. effort on the part of those who are expected to make such an effort.

Historically, governments, their ministries and agencies, have taken on the mantle of outreach in order to inform targeted populations and communities about the possibility for them to claim looted objects which may belong to their relatives, close or distant, so that they could consider a claim for restitution.

Decades after the crime of plunder has stripped millions of people of their belongings, it’s not so clear who or what is responsible for displaying such an effort.
Individual museums built web pages that contained images and descriptions of objects which they had selected as falling within the broad category of having “unavoidable gaps” for the period 1933-1945. Then the American Alliance (ex-Association) of Museums (AAM) built a website called the Nazi-era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP) whose aim is to bring together all of the objects identified by American museums as displaying a provenance gap for the relevant period (1933-1945)

Auction houses have no reporting responsibility. Galleries have no reporting responsibilities and, therefore, are not required to make an effort in identifying these kinds of objects which they buy and sell.
Are Jewish organizations responsible for this publicity effort? The Christian world always expects Jews to take care of their own issues as displayed fervently after the end of WWII when the US Army wanted to extricate itself of the business of caring for objects looted from Jewish victims and in 1946 when the international community designated two organizations—which happened to be Jewish—to oversee the looted asset question as it applied to Jewish victims, of course.

With such lack of specificity, it is difficult to understand what the framers of the Principles had in mind when they called for “every effort”.

Even if the co-authors of the Washington Principles thought that Jewish organizations would handle the publicity effort around objects that could be claimed, they still had to be coaxed into it, considering that no single Jewish organization was even remotely interested in assisting Jews with their restitution claims for looted art.

With all of this in mind, is Principle V a diplomatic expression of wishful thinking on the part of its framers? Did they give this issue much thought before they sat down and vaguely announced that “every effort should be made”? It’s good to remember that, without Principle I—identification--, Principle II—access to archives—Principle III-resources and personnel--, Principle V has no reason to exist.

By all accounts, Principle V does not rise to the standard of a self-governing principle. It requires crutches and other aids so that the average reader can understand it.

In June 2011, we noted that “Principle V is a double-edged sword and the dull edge of the sword is on full display.”

Principle #5 could be rewritten and broadened as follows:

In order to facilitate the location of pre-1933 owners and/or their heirs, every effort shall be made to draw up and disseminate to as wide a public as possible all information regarding artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Washington Principle #4: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #4
IV. In establishing that a work of art had been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted, consideration should be given to unavoidable gaps or ambiguities in the provenance in light of the passage of time and the circumstances of the Holocaust era.

In view of the number of legally-trained individuals who are involved in international diplomatic negotiations and the drafting of complex documents for submission to representatives of many foreign nations, one would think that better care would be paid to vocabulary.

“work of art”:

The definitions vary for this word grouping. For some, “work of art” is interchangeable with “art piece” or “artwork” or “objet d’art”. For others, it has a narrower and more elitist meaning: “an object made with great skill, especially a painting, a drawing, or a statue.”  One way or another, high quality is synonymous with those words. And those words exclude all other “objets d’art” which, ironically, serve as synonym for “works of art.”

“consideration”:
Another way of saying “Careful thought” or “deliberation.”

“unavoidable gaps” in provenance:
As there are no uniform standards that define what an “unavoidable gap” is in the history of ownership (provenance) of a cultural, artistic or ritual object, let’s give this our “consideration.”

It is a well-established fact that we will never know everything about the history of an object. The older it is, the less likely it is that we can reconstruct a detailed path of ownership for the object in question. However, the obverse is equally true. The more we search for information about the history of an object, the more likely we are to develop a clearer history of that object, notwithstanding the “unavoidable” gaps. But one important function of research is to narrow these “unavoidable gaps.” If Principle III is properly put into effect, chances are that researchers can fill these gaps. But to what extent can they? It all depends on access to materials (Principle II) in public and private archives that can shed light on their owners and the objects they owned.

If we follow the dicta of global museums such as the British Museum, the provenance will contain only “relevant” and “important” information. Another layer of complexity, another filter of information added to the task of “filling the unavoidable gap.”

Quite clearly, this principle was written with a Museum association in mind which rails constantly against those who demand that their provenances be impeccable and gap-free. No one has and will ever make such a request from a museum or gallery or auction house.

Gap-filling (not like at the dentist’s) pertains mostly to the 1933-1945 period. It would be good practice on the part of museums, and the rest of the art world, to exercise enough diligence so as to include as much “relevant” information as possible in the provenance of an object under their care and ownership.
Gaps are unavoidable because no one has paid enough attention to them and considered them to be “normal.” If the art world changes its behavior towards the writing of a provenance, the gap issue might wither away naturally. But, being the optimist that I am, it will take at least twenty years for such behavior to change on a systematic, industry-wide scale across continents.

“Ambiguities”:
That word can only be addressed through careful research. The structure of the provenance itself allows its author or anyone else for that matter to use footnotes in order to address the “ambiguities” inherent in the provenance. That strategy has been in force for quite some time and appears to work very well.

“passage of time”:

Time is elusive and so are record-keeping and people’s memories. Passage of time is a non-issue and should not even be included. In fact, when one reads that expression, one can only see a veiled threat by a museum invoking “latches” and flinging it at the claimant for not having “done enough” to research the fate of his/her object.

“circumstances of the Holocaust era”:
A lovely historical misnomer which reduces the relevant domain of inquiry to the period 1940-1945. In other words, it is a misreading of history and is inconsistent with the phrasing “Nazi era” which lasted from 1933 to 1945.

In June 2011, we noted that “Principle IV is the kiss of death for claimants. No one follows this Principle because provenance is everything. If there is a gap in the provenance, it is because the information is not available. If the information is not available, it is because access is being denied to the relevant information.” Hence, Principle IV is wishful thinking at best and utter diplomatic cynicism at worst. It can only be salvaged if action is taken to enforce Principles II and III.

Principle #4 could be rewritten and expanded as follows:

In establishing that a cultural, artistic and/or ritual object has been confiscated, misappropriated, been subject to a forced sale and/or other acts of illicit dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted, every diligent effort shall be made to produce as complete a provenance as possible by filling gaps and resolving ambiguities produced within and/or facilitated by a context of racial persecution, warfare, and genocide during the entire period of the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the Second World War, across Axis-controlled Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Washington Principle #3: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #3

III. Resources and personnel should be made available to facilitate the identification of all art that had been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted.


“Resources and personnel”:

The only way to ensure that a principle is enacted properly is to allocate resources and personnel which are dedicated to ensuring its viability. In the case of “identification of all art”, the “art” in question is located in a myriad places, both public and private, accessible and inaccessible. Even if archives are open, someone has to do the research and be paid for it. If museums grant access to their records, someone has to be able to consult them and be paid for that task. If we ask art institutions to cover those costs, little will be done, that’s for certain. Hence, external sources of funding have to be made available in the form of grants, fellowships, project funds, to allow institutions to recruit the personnel needed to conduct relevant searches into relevant records so as to “identify all art”. The only country that has done so, and to a limited extent truth be told, is Germany. After Germany, we have Austria. And that’s about the extent of it, with scattered efforts to work on discrete projects with no immediate consequence on the ability to “identify all art that had been confiscated” and displaced by other means. The United States, case in point, has turned out to be a miserable failure in this department, its government providing neither resources nor personnel to make good on its own dicta stemming from the Washington Conference on Holocaust Assets of December 1998.

But in order to “identify all art”, one must know what one is searching for. The widespread lack of understanding of the crime of plunder is staggering and impedes any large-scale at identifying the relevant objects that may fall under the category of “confiscated,” “dispossessed”, “sold under duress,” “looted”, “plundered,” etc.

In June 2011, we noted an inconsistency in language between Principles I and III: “Principle III embraces the notion that “all art” confiscated by the Nazis should be identified, as opposed to Principle I which just discusses “art.” Did the diplomats of the Washington Conference intend to maintain this inconsistency for any particular reason? Principle III is a massive failure.

On a more positive note, we note that the Gurlitt exercise (since 2013) has forced the German government to reassess its provenance research funding priorities with a view to increasing funds allocated to German museums. A side effect of the Gurlitt exercise has been to compel the Swiss government to acknowledge that there has never been any systematic effort in Swiss museums to conduct research into their holdings. The Gurlitt collection’s presence at the Kunstmuseum of Bern is changing this dynamic as basic funds are being allocated for a limited study of Swiss institutions to survey their collections for any item falling under the rubric of “confiscated” or “displaced” during the 1933-1945 period. Of course, these objects would have been misappropriated in another country and then brought into Switzerland.

Likewise, an international conference recently convened in Jerusalem on October 4 renewed a call from Jewish groups worldwide to focus on provenance research as a way of identifying so-called “heirless” property.

And the regional provenance research project, TransCultAA, recently funded by the European Union, has shown the way to create historical research projects addressing the “translocation” of Jewish-owned cultural assets at the regional level, in this case the area flanked by Austria, Italy, and the Western Balkans.

For research to take place, it requires capital and people. It won’t happen without them. We’ve been twenty years for Principle #3 to be implemented on a systematic scale and it has not happened to date. The failure lies with the signatory governments to the Washington Conference of December 1998 who essentially made a deceitful commitment to provide such resources and personnel. Hence, Principle #3 is a failure.

Principle #3 should be rewritten and expanded as follows:

Resources and personnel “grants, fellowships, project funds and other financial allocation mechanism, shall be made available to facilitate the identification of all artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Washington Principle #2: A Critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]

Principle #2

II. Relevant records and archives should be open and accessible to researchers, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Council on Archives.

“Relevant”:

Archival collections abound worldwide. Most of them consist of documents, reports, correspondence, photographs, transcripts, memoranda, lists, etc., compiled by municipal, regional and national agencies, both civilian and military. “Relevance” addresses the extent to which these archives shed light on the fate of cultural objects owned by Jewish individuals, their families, friends, businesses, and the like. Hence, these documents can be found in financial, cultural, economic, administrative, police, political, and other archival collections. They name objects, names of people, and locations where objects were located, extracted, transferred, bought and sold, traded, exchanged, ferried, crated, and deposited.

Access to archival records produced since the 1930s has grown exponentially from North America to Western and Central Europe. However, there has also been a reaction to such open access under various disguises: privacy concerns, national security concerns, legal concerns.

Where access to “relevant” documents is granted, the right to publish the documents is suppressed, especially in their digital form. The right to publish and reproduce documents extracted from public and private records will remain a source of friction for some time until privacy concerns are eased for documents that are now more than 80 years old.

In June 2011, we noted the following:

“The main hitch that impedes exhaustive research into Nazi/Fascist looting is the difficulty experienced by all researchers in gaining access to private archives and especially those developed by art dealers, art collectors, private and State-owned museums, and other cultural institutions. As noted in recent court cases in the United States, American museums have been loath to release all records that would shed a full historical light on transactions involving works being claimed for restitution. There, Principle II continues to be completely ineffectual.”

Since 1998, there has been very little progress registered in gaining access to private gallery and museum records. Art trade practitioners continue to hide behind shields of trade secrecy, confidentiality, protection of clients’ and consigners’ identities, amid general suspicion that the desire for access to their records rests on dark motives. All that one wants to know is how objects travel from one point to the next. Art market professionals should feel bold enough to share such information without sacrificing confidential and sensitive client information. But to gain this level of trust requires a lot of handholding and one-on-one communication that could take a lifetime to achieve with meager results. Hence, new strategies should be explored in order to gain access to such records. Otherwise the full truth shall never be known as to the fate of thousands of objects from the time of their forced removal from Jewish ownership to their present whereabouts.

Principle #2 could be rewritten and expanded as follows:

All records and archives must be declassified, open and accessible to researchers, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Council on Archives, EU directives and other relevant legal and diplomatic instrumentalities. In consultation with art trade representatives, mechanisms shall be developed and implemented to ensure that proper access to relevant documents is ensured for all those who request it under conditions that are mutually agreed to between the parties.

09 October 2018

Washington Principle #1: A critique

by Marc Masurovsky

[Editor's note: Due to the momentous nature of the upcoming international conference in Berlin, Germany, entitled "20 years Washington Principles: Roadmap for the Future," it would be worthwhile to revisit these Principles and to put them through a linguistic, methodological and substantive meat grinder, and see what comes out of this critique. There will be eleven articles, each one devoted to one of the Principles enacted in a non-binding fashion in Washington, DC, on December 3, 1998.]


Washington Principle #1

I. Art that had been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted should be identified.
“Art”:

In conventional terms, we think of “art” as paintings, works on paper, and sculpture, especially of the highest quality, museum-worthy pieces. This definition would be consistent with the overall approach applied by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries in the immediate postwar years as their agencies searched for looted “art.” But in reality, “art” covers many disciplines and media, many forms of expression and purposes whose quality varies greatly in content, style and esthetics. Most of the “art” that had been “confiscated” by the Nazis did not consist solely of paintings, works on paper, and sculpture. It included furniture, accessories, other kinds of decorative objects, any object that, although functional, and even ritualistic presents esthetic values which would earn it the label of “art.” The ERR database, for instance, is clear proof of this broad expanse known as “art.”

“confiscated by the Nazis”: 

the word connotes an order from on high to seize someone’s property. Hence, we are to understand that the Nazi government or authorities order the “confiscation” of “art” from their designated victims. This narrow definition of how “art” changed hands illicitly begs for clarification as it is historically reductionist and therefore conveys a skewed vision of the historical reality. The word “confiscated” excludes other forms of dispossession brought about as a consequence of the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933 and does not reflect the myriad ways in which property owned by Jews could be forced out of their hands.

“not subsequently restituted”: 

what does “restituted” really mean in this context? Physically returned to the aggrieved individual or entity whose “art” was “confiscated”? Does it mean “returned” to the country of origin? The lack of clarity fills this word with ambiguity.

“should be identified”: 

it’s not an obligation, mind you. But just in case the thought crossed your mind, would you be so kind and identify “art” confiscated” by the Nazis which sits in your midst? And to whom is this Principle addressed? To museums—public and private? To art galleries and auction houses? To individual private owners? To institutional owners? To religious entities? It’s hard to know. And how does “identified” work? Is it simply a question of spotting the item in a collection, taking notes of its presence, and leaving for lunch? The mission inherent in Principle #1 is narrow in scope. What do you do once the object is identified? And how is it identified? Using what methods, exactly?

In June 2011, we wrote that “the process of identification, in and of itself, is known as a Catch-22—it contains its own paradox. In order to identify looted art, one must understand the concept of looting. Looting, per se, can be as simple as forced removal of property at the point of a gun and/or with the assistance of local law enforcement and judicial authorities working in tandem with the occupation authority. It can also be the result of so-called forced sales or duress sales. There, too, we run into problems because not every country that attended the Washington Conference even acknowledges that such sales occurred on its territory during those fateful dark years.” And so it goes. After 20 years or so, “there are no firm standards by which to move forward on identification…Moreover, this Principle does not make it explicit that such efforts should be exhaustive and definitive. Hence, each country can produce an ‘ad minima’ effort and feel that it has abided by Principle I. How diplomatic!” 

Principle #1 could be rewritten and expanded as follows:

Artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945, and not subsequently restituted to their rightful owners shall be identified using the highest standards of scientific and empirical research and analysis.





08 October 2018

An "heirless" journey

by Marc Masurovsky

How has the discussion on "heirless" cultural assets evolved between 2011 and 2018, as reflected in various entries in the "plundered art" blog?

Overall, the debate goes nowhere, primarily because the "heirless" status of a looted object is, by nature, political and administrative. From a research standpoint, it represents one final assessment whereby no concrete links could be drawn between that object and one or more individuals acting as its owner at a particular point in time. It is--and should be--the outcome of a lengthy and methodical research effort undertaken in various archives.

The future lies in breaking the stalemate over the "heirless" object: does it really boil down to selling these objects off or can there be a genuine commitment on the part of the holders of these objects to do their best to find an "owner", thereby establish a clear, even if incomplete, provenance of the object sufficient to allow us to tell its story, or a story about its trajectory.

April 9, 2011

How best to handle so-called heirless or unidentifiable property? In today’s mercenary, hyper-materialistic and insensitive world, one approach is to share the proceeds of sales of heirless property along carefully delineated lines. It’s just an idea, but the issue of looted cultural property from the Second World War will never, and I mean never, go away without some form of global political and financial settlement of those stolen works that have been left in netherland.

Perhaps, it’s time to think about creating an international entity responsible for disposing of so-called heirless objects in a manner that is of ultimate benefit to the families of victims, and which underwrites and promotes further research into the fate of such objects.

June 25, 2011

Washington Principle IX spells out the following: “If the pre-War owners of art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis, or their heirs, can not be identified, steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution.”

Principle IX is diplomatic hogwash at its best. Let’s use the phraseology that best suits the Principle: heirless property. These two words put together offer a lethal mixture to Jewish organizations and postwar governments alike. No one knows what to do with heirless property. They don’t. How long has it been since the end of World War II? How long has it been since the Washington Principles were enacted? We are still at level one of the discussion.

Principle IX should simply be re-written completely and the words “heirless property” injected into a new paragraph that rethinks the fate of heirless property.

July 3, 2011

Ever since the end of the Second World War, politicians, diplomats, officials and bureaucrats in leading international Jewish organizations, non-governmental organizations, scholars, and historians alike have butted heads on what to do with so-called “heirless” property, or property for which no rightful owner can be found because, for the most part, the family line was extinguished by genocide and war.

There still is no resolution as to how to treat this problem that spreads discomfort and awkwardness across continents, especially among cultural institutions that are the custodians or owners of objects that can be described as “heirless.” What to do? Do we leave them where they are in display cases or on shelves in museum or gallery warehouses as mute witnesses to the horrors of a recent genocidal past? What if they can be connected to a specific geographic location? Do we then return them to the place from which they might have been collected before their owners were wiped off the face of the earth?

August 21, 2011

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.

February 14, 2015

Principle 9: If the pre-War owners of art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis, or their heirs, cannot be identified, steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution.

A number of international Jewish organizations and other interested parties have come forward and made numerous suggestions about how to dispose of the ‘heirless’ component of the Gurlitt commission. This initial determination of “heirless” is contingent on the research and the ability to fill gaps and ambiguities in the history of the objects in the Gurlitt collection. According to the agreement signed by the German government with the estate of the late Cornelius Gurlitt and the Kunstmuseum Bern, 2020 is the deadline at which a final determination will be made about the status of the objects being researched under the aegis of the Gurlitt Task Force and by the Kunstmuseum Bern. Some have suggested that the “heirless” items be sent to Israel. Others have asked that they be sold and the proceeds distributed among needy Holocaust survivors and their families. The German government has tentatively endorsed the idea that the “heirless” items should be housed and displayed in a German museum “for a while” once the last ‘clean’ items are transferred to the Kunstmuseum Bern and the “identifiable” items have been returned to their rightful owners. A fair and just solution? So far it’s been unfair and unjust. Therefore, we must cast an interim NO until further notice.

January 13, 2017

What does one do with objects deemed heirless? Remember that heirless property is simply unclaimed property for which no owners have been found ---yet. Since there are no well-funded research organizations or institutions in the business of searching for these objects’ rightful owners, they remain to a large extent heirless, deprived of their history, their context and their identity.

For instance, Jewish museums are stocked with heirless objects, coming from communities that have been systematically erased from the face of the earth. But not all displaced objects in Jewish museums are heirless. The mission of Jewish museums is to safeguard these objects, not necessarily restitute them. Hence, when faced with a restitution claim, a Jewish museum is more likely to behave like most art museums by opposing the act of restitution which would require de-accessioning the claimed object from its collection.

In an ideal world, the most logical way to address the question of researching and documenting the complete history of cultural plunder between 1933 and 1945 is to orchestrate a massive inflow of research monies and establish an international research and documentation infrastructure. Only in this way can one address systematically the full scope of looted cultural heritage (outside of Judaica which has attracted significant attention over the past decades) of the Jewish people, identify the location of plundered objects, figure out which ones have still not been restituted, match them with their rightful owners. If there are none, then the question of heirless property comes into the picture.

A vast international, even transcontinental, network or infrastructure of research institutions facilitated and nurtured by a mix of government agencies, independent organizations, and academic centers across the Americas and Europe should coordinate this effort. This is not a one-or three-person job. In order to get a handle on what was stolen, where, when, by whom, sold and resold to whom and where and when, one needs a small army of intelligent, motivated, educated, trained, PAID, worker bees.

There is a strong likelihood that “heirless” objects having once belonged to Jewish owners before the Holocaust era ended up in the permanent collections of museums, be they State-controlled or privately owned.

How does one persuade these cultural institutions to de-accession heirless objects which they argue were acquired in good faith and have no owner?

October 8, 2018

No object is heirless unless it is labeled as such. Every object begins with an owner who happens to be its maker or creator. Once the object leaves its original, primal owner and the place where it sat or hung, the path of the object will either be licit or illicit depending on the circumstances of its removal, transfers, and the transactions that it was subjected to and the larger historical context in which these movements or translocations took place. Those are the objective facts surrounding the life of an object and its peregrination through time and space. That is what constitutes the provenance of an object. To put it simply, every object is connected at any given point, to a person, to a location and to a date.

In my view, the paradox is as follows: An object becomes heirless because it has been labeled as such for reasons having nothing to do with the object itself. On the other hand, an object always has an owner, whether identified or not.

Cleopatra, by Artemisia Gentileschi

by Marc Masurovsky







A painting recently attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi was placed on prominent display at Frieze Masters, courtesy of Paris-based Galerie G. Sarti.

The provenance of the work indicates that it is from a private collection in France somewhere.

When prodded, a representative of the gallery pointed out that the work had been placed "en dépôt" at a museum in Toulon, France.

How long had been "en dépôt" there?


At least half a century.

Wow, that's long,

Who placed it there?

A collector.

From where?

He is a German collector.

Now the story gets better.

2018-50=1968 (at the latest).

Why would a German collector come down to Toulon just to "deposit" a  large painting with a museum in southern France?

He didn't.  He lives nearby.  Monte Carlo. He comes from a powerful "royal family."

Ooooh!

So, after about 15 minutes of diplomatic back and forth with the gallery representative, the provenance at least got clarified to a point.  

Who is this German collector? We probably will not know.

Where did he get the painting from? We probably will not know until further prodding which could exceed the bounds of civility.

The rumor has it that this version of "Cleopatra" by Gentileschi may have floated through the collection of King Charles I. But that's not definitive yet.








It is not heirless unless we say it is

by Marc Masurovsky

In late January 2015, HASHAVA sponsored a visit to the kibbutz of Ein Harod and its museum of Jewish artists near Mount Gilboa. It turned into an opportunity to celebrate one painting in particular, The Beggar, by Eugeniusz Zak. Zak was a reknown Jewish artist who worked and died in interwar Paris. This magnificent, broody painting ended up at Ein Harod after following complicated paths by which hundreds if not thousands of works and objects of art displaced during the Holocaust had traveled to Israel from the site of their plunder. The uniqueness of this Zak painting lay in the visible and clear stamp on the back of its frame, indicating that it had been stolen during Mobel-Aktion in German-occupied Paris and catalogued at the Jeu de Paume Museum as MA-B 1330.


You can view the Zak painting under two different lenses: under one lens, it has no owner. It is heirless. It has a home in Israel where it is well cared for, as a living testament to the tragic events of the wartime occupation of France and to the physical disappearance of 76000 Jewish men, women, and children. Therefore, it serves a dual function: as a work of art and a memorial to lost lives.

Under another lens, the Zak painting’s provenance, its ownership history, is incomplete and requires further work in the hope of finding a pre-war owner with a view to returning it. All that was known about the painting’s history at the time of its discovery, aside from the name of its author and the painting’s characteristics, is that it was seized in the spring of 1944 in Paris, processed at the Jeu de Paume in June 1944 by Dr. Borchers, a senior ERR official. The painting was recovered by French resistance troops in late August 1944 and most likely sold by the French government on the postwar Paris art market.

The research involved in uncovering the rightful owner of this painting and therefore erase its “heirless” or ‘ownerless” label, involves, in part, the following steps:

1/ since there were few collectors in Paris who appreciated Zak’s works, it would be wise to draw up such a list because it might help us zoom in on a potential owner, especially if he/she was Jewish. Zak’s widow, Hedwige, would have been the more likely and near-exclusive source of Zak paintings in Paris. It would also be good to understand the Parisian market for such works. 

2/ Once the painting is located either at the scale of a city or of a neighborhood within a city, archival resources falling outside the narrow strictures of art history need to be consulted. In the case of the Zak painting, the research points us in the direction of Mobel-Aktion and its coordinator in wartime France, the Dienststelle Westen which was itself an offshoot of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), Alfred Rosenberg’s Europe-wide specialized plundering task force. The Dienststelle Westen oversaw the day-to-day operations of Mobel-Aktion from 1942 until 1944. That involved: identifying the location of Jewish “residences”, placing seals on the doors of those residences—a cheeky German way of telling the Vichy French that they had no jurisdiction over the contents of those apartments—sending one or more teams of specialists to those apartments to survey their contents and prepare them for crating and removal; transferring the contents onto one or more trucks which would deliver them to Lagers throughout Paris, where plundered Jewish property was sorted and processed by Jewish slave labor, drafted for that purpose from the transit camp of Drancy in the northern suburbs of the French capital. 

The fruits of Mobel-Aktion either went to Germany or remained in Paris to be further examined because of their perceived quality, workmanship, or value and importance. In other words, they were transferred to the Jeu de Paume where an additional selection took place. The Vichy French agency responsible for surveying Jewish residences in France, was the notorious anti-Jewish Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives, otherwise known as the General Commissariat for Jewish affairs. Its main task, from 1941 to 1944, was to oversee the material, economic expropriation of the Jews of France, seize and liquidate their property for the benefit of Vichy and Aryan non-Jewish owners. A working partnership tied the Commissariat to the Dienststelle Westen whereby French anti-Semitic agents would provide Dienststelle officers with names and addresses of Jews who had “abandoned” their apartments—either because they had fled or they had been arrested and interned, or worse, were already dead. The commissariat routinely published annotated lists of Jews with their last known addresses, sharing them with their Mobel-Aktion colleagues. Hence, from an archival standpoint, one should look for addresses and names of individuals whose apartments or houses had been fingered by Vichy agents and sealed off in late 1943 and early 1944. These records are located at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris and at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. This would be one way of narrowing down the list of potential owners of the Zak painting. Then, one could take those names and look for postwar files submitted by individual victims or their heirs to the French government for purposes of restitution. These files are housed at the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs at La Courneuve, north of Paris. Those archives have allowed us, so far, to link 10 to 15 per cent of the so-called heirless or ownerless objects collected under Mobel-Aktion with their rightful owners. Hence, identifiability is not just a concept, it is a highly probable outcome of meticulous international archival research.

In order to fold this type of non-art historical research into the portfolio of a museum professional, the institution as a whole must make an explicit commitment to promote such research, through adequate funding, resources, and training. Such an institution must committed to the outcome of such research, retracing the intricate paths of ownership through and time and space of an object, regardless of its outcome, be it restitution, repatriation, or maintenance in the collection as a result of a negotiated settlement with the identified owner to his/her satisfaction.

No object is heirless unless it is labeled as such. Every object begins with an owner who happens to be its maker or creator. Once the object leaves its original, primal owner and the place where it sat or hung, the path of the object will either be licit or illicit depending on the circumstances of its removal, transfers, and the transactions that it was subjected to and the larger historical context in which these movements or translocations took place. Those are the objective facts which surround the life of an object and its peregrination through time and space. That is what constitutes the provenance of an object. To put it simply, every object is connected at any given point, to a person, to a location and to a date.

In my view, the paradox is as follows: An object becomes heirless because it has been labeled as such for reasons having nothing to do with the object itself. On the other hand, an object always has an owner, whether identified or not.

If one looks at the so-called MNR works—Musées Nationaux Récupération-- which currently sit in dozens of cultural institutions scattered throughout France, one realizes how foolhardy it is to treat art objects as wholesale bulk commodities. These works include paintings, works on paper, furniture, decorative objects and the like. They were retrieved by specialized French units from German and Austrian collections after 1945 and repatriated to France whereupon they were placed in an odd limbo-like category as of the early 1950s. The French government considers itself the custodian of those objects, although it has behaved more like an owner. In the late 1990s, a number of organizations clamored for France to release the MNR works—over 2000—so that they could be sold for the benefit of the Jewish people. The reigning assumption being that these objects had all been looted from Jewish owners. Nothing could be further from the truth as demonstrated by the French government’s painstaking research into these objects Although the research is far from over, it is safe to say that many of the MNR objects were owned and sold by them to the German occupiers on the wartime French market between 1940 and 1944. Hence, a rush to judgment based on a misunderstanding of the history of looted objects motivated by political expediency leads to inevitable miscarriages of justice and incoherent decisions.

Public and private collections worldwide contain an unknown number of objects for which there is no provenance, no history, therefor no understanding of who owned these objects. Take the countries that were part of Yugoslavia until its breakup in the early 1990s and apply that knowledge to Eastern European nations in the wake of the Second World War, you will soon realize that the problem of unidentifiable cultural assets sitting in those collections may be significant. Recent research conducted by a EU-funded provenance research project, TransCultAA, confirms that many postwar museum collections in the former Yugoslavia were largely comprised of unidentifiable looted cultural assets. The same logic applies to other countries in Eastern Europe, subject to additional long-term research.

Our functioning premise is that every object has an owner. To be true to that axiom, research has to be conducted into the history of the objects for which nothing is known so that something is known. And if it means dusting off a skeleton or two that brings back to the forefront some of the ugliest moments of recent history, then so be it. Regardless of who was responsible for the thefts and murders, the Ustasha, the Milice, the Rexists, the Einsatzkommandos, local townspeople abetted by their notables and their religious leaders, regional and State officials, paramilitary forces, anyone who partook in the commission of a crime against humanity—physical elimination accompanied by wholesale plunder—we need to have the maturity and presence of mind to tell the stories of these so-called “heirless” objects which are in our collective custody; they command us to do so. Their stories are our stories, our past, and therefore our present. If we choose to ignore them and pretend that the stories did not occur, we are simply lying to ourselves. 

When a museum refuses to publish the provenance of an object in its care, regardless of its motivations not to do so, it is behaving unethically and denying our peers, our children, and grandchildren, the privilege of understanding where these objects came from, what they endured and how they ended up where they are today.









08 August 2018

MoMA's dalliances with the two portraits of Max Hermann Neisse by Georg Grosz


by Marc Masurovsky


 "Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse", by Georg Grosz, 1925

In April 2009, the heirs of the German expressionist artist, Georg Grosz, filed an art restitution lawsuit against the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, claiming that three paintings by Grosz held in MoMA's collection since the 1950s rightfully belonged to Georg Grosz and his heirs. The outcome of the suit yielded no restitution to the Grosz family despite an offer by MoMA to share the paintings in a co-ownership deal.

A German-born art dealer named Curt Valentin had sold to MoMA one of those paintings, Grosz’s “Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse”, in 1952; this was the second version dated 1927, which Grosz had produced of the celebrated Polish-born German writer, Max Hermann Neisse.

However, as early as 1948, Alfred Barr, the iconic director of MoMA at the time of the 1952 purchase, had had his eyes on the first version that Grosz had painted in 1925 of Max Hermann Neisse. That painting had graced the walls of the Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany, until the Nazi government ordered its de-accession as a “degenerate [entartete]” painting which National Socialist aesthetic principles. After its de-accession, the Mannheim painting of Max Hermann Neisse was eventually sold in the late 1930s to Kurt Sachs, a private collector from Hamburg.Barr wrote about the 1925 Grosz portrait to Theodore Heinrich, then chief of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point in Germany, a trained art historian who eventually went on to lead several museums in the United States and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Barr had been tipped off of its existence by Charles Parkhurst, another American cultural advisor with US forces in Germany, also referred to as a “monuments man”. Parkhurst had informed Heinrich on February 4, 1948, that Barr would write to him about “a painting for sale formerly in the Kunsthalle, Mannheim.” Apparently, the go-between offering the painting was an “American bookseller” based in Paris, France. This bookseller swore up and down to Barr that the provenance of the Grosz painting was above reproach. [Editor's note: this bookseller might be none other than Heinz Berggruen, who had opened a bookshop on the Left Bank Paris right after its liberation in late August 1944. He had extensive art dealing contacts in Germany and traveled regularly between Paris and the US zone of occupation.].


Barr, on the other hand, indicated to Heinrich that “we would like very much to have this picture in the Collection [of MoMA ] but don’t want to buy anything of which the ownership is not entirely certain.”
Barr to Heinrich, February 9, 1948
Heinrich chose not to reply to Barr in writing but instead met with him in New York on February 27, 1948, at which time he gave him his opinion about this possible acquisition.
 Note by Heinrich about Mannheim Grosz painting

The main concern that Barr had regarding the Mannheim Grosz portrait was that the Mannheim Kunsthalle was aggressively seeking the restitution of the 584 works that it had been forced to de-accession during the Nazi years. Each Western zone of occupation of Germany---French, British, and American—had adopted a different stance regarding the recognition of German museums’ ability to recover their ‘de-accessioned’ properties. According to Heinrich, the Americans had not put forth an official position for or against such claims by German museums, although they ended up ruling in favor of the Nazi de-accession laws, thus striking down with one fell swoop any hope for German museums in their jurisdiction to recover de-accessioned works. However, the French had reacted favorably to Mannheim’s claim for a painting found in private hands in their zone of occupation, thus encouraging the director of the Mannheim Kunsthalle to pursue other claims in the Western Allied zones of occupation of Germany. On the other hand, German art dealers were displeased at the behavior of the German museums whose claims for de-accessioned “degenerate works” were impeding their chance of selling them on behalf of private art collectors like Kurt Sachs who had acquired them after museums had been forced to disgorge them.

In August 1949, Barr offered to buy the painting and resell it to Mannheim "at cost". He sympathized with Mannheim's year-long battle to recover the painting from Sachs and his dealer, Ernst Hauswedell.
Barr to Heinrich, August 19, 1949

Hauswedell argued virulently against Mannheim's claim in a letter to Barr dated September 26, 1949, where he derided the museum’s claim.
Hauswedell to Barr, September 1949

In the end, Mannheim succeeded in reintegrating the Grosz portrait in its permanent collection after having lost it to Nazi cultural policies in 1938. Whether or not this recovery resulted from Barr's intercession is not known.

Three years later, Barr settled on the second version of “Portrait of Max Hermann Neisse” by Georg Grosz, a decision that came back to haunt MoMA 50 years later.


Archival sources: 

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Theodore Heinrich Records, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

A 1902 painting by Paul Signac


by Marc Masurovsky
Auxerre, le Canal, Juin 1902, by Paul Signac
reproduced by Artcurial

On December 2, 2013, a painting by Paul Signac, “Auxerre, le Canal, Juin 1902,” was auctioned at Artcurial in Paris, France. It fetched more than 600,000 euros.

Nothing special about this sale.

The provenance of the painting indicates that it had been offered for sale in Weimar in 1903, hence a year after it was painted. Then it remained in a “private collection” until it resurfaced nearly 100 years later at a sale at Artcurial Briest in 2002.

A gap in the history of a post-impressionist work stretching over one hundred years is always something to behold. It’s impossible to know where it went during all that time, but one thing is certain. This Signac work was produced in France, left for Weimar, remained in Germany for an unknown period of time, two world wars ensued before it reemerged in 2002. It fell completely out of sight since its exhibition history echoes this centennial gap.

And then, one finds the most innocuous information in far away archives that may or may not illuminate the history of a work. In this case, a document buried in an archive at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, amongst the papers of Theodore Heinrich, a Canadian-born American citizen trained as an art historian who became one of several hundred cultural advisors to the American army in the years following the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe in 1944-1945. He went on to run the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point in Bavaria, the temporary home for thousands of works of art belonging to German State museums, and to an even more spectacular number of Jewish ritual objects as well as a host of German private collections including a portion of the collection of Hildebrand Gurlitt.

Heinrich was a consummate art collector. In fact, no sooner had he arrived in liberated Paris on the heels of the US invading force that he began to amass what became a significant collection of works on paper spanning three hundred years from the 17th century to the 20th century. He fancied French, Italian, and German masters and cultivated relationships with booksellers and art dealers across Western Europe. During his five year stay as a US Army cultural advisor (so-called “Monuments Man”), Heinrich acquired several hundred works from private dealers in France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy, regardless of the origin of the works, oblivious to their provenance in the aftermath of one of the worst acts of cultural plunder perpetrated by one nation-Nazi Germany--over those it conquered, annexed, occupied or was allied to.  Those works and many other items were auctioned off after his death in the early 1980s.

On July 25, 1949, Galerie Bremer, based in Berlin, Wilmersdorf, wrote to “Dr. Heinrichs”,  thinking that Theodore Heinrich was familiar with an “American committee” operating in the US Zone of occupation consisting of art dealers and museum officials from the United States who were interesting in “buying valuable paintings for American museums.”  No proof exists that such a committee ever existed, but there is ample evidence that representatives of the American art trade were busy trolling for business opportunities in liberated Germany.


One of the paintings offered by Galerie Bremer was signed by Paul Signac, and entitled “Kanal bei Auxerre, 1902”. That painting's measurements—46 x 57 cm—are very similar to those of the Signac sold at Artcurial in 2013—46 x 55 cm. If it is the same painting, we can deduce that it was consigned to a Berlin gallery in the immediate post-1945 period. How it got there, how long it remained in Germany, remains a mystery. The Signac catalogue raisonné apparently does not enhance our knowledge of this work's past history since it is cited in the 2013 Artcurial sale.



03 August 2018

New and enhanced version of the Washington Principles, starting in December 2018 (wishful thinking)

by Marc Masurovsky

Proposal for a modified and enhanced version of the Washington Principles to be enacted in commemoration of their 20th anniversary in December 2018 or soon thereafter,

Principle #1
Artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945, and not subsequently restituted shall be identified.
Principle #2
All records and archives must be declassified, open and accessible to researchers, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Council on Archives, EU directives and other relevant legal and diplomatic instrumentalities.
Principle #3
Resources and personnel shall be made available to facilitate the identification of all artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.
Principle #4
In establishing that a cultural, artistic and/or ritual object has been confiscated, misappropriated, been subject to a forced sale and/or other form of act of illicit dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted, every diligent effort shall be made to produce as complete a provenance as possible by filling gaps and resolving ambiguities produced and/or facilitated by a context of racial persecution, warfare, and genocide during the entire period of the Third Reich and throughout Axis-controlled Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Principle #5
In order to facilitate the location of pre-1933 owners and/or their heirs, every effort shall be made to draw up and disseminate to as wide a public as possible all information regarding artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Principle #6
Efforts shall be made to establish a central, fully searchable and interactive digital repository of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and their Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Principle #7
Pre-1933 owners and their heirs must be encouraged to submit their claims for artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted.

Principle #8
If the pre-1933 owners of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 and not subsequently restituted, or their heirs, are identified, steps will be taken expeditiously to initiate restitution proceedings or any other solution deemed just and fair by all parties concerned, according to the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific case. In each and every case, the interests of the claimants will be placed on an equal footing with those of the current possessors.

Principle #9
If the pre-1933 owners of artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945 that are found to have been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted, or their heirs, cannot be identified, processes shall be put into place with all stakeholders so as to find an equitable solution as to how to treat these objects with due consideration to their artistic relevance and to their individual history.
Principle #10
Commissions or other bodies shall be established to assist in addressing ownership issues for unrestituted artistic, cultural and ritual objects confiscated, misappropriated, sold under duress and/or forced sales, subjected to other forms of illicit acts of dispossession by the Nazis, their supporters, profiteers and Fascist allies across Europe between 1933 and 1945; these commissions or other bodies shall have a balanced membership consisting of, but not limited to, members of the art trade, civil servants, current possessors, claimants and their representatives, historians and specialists.
Principle #11
Nations shall enact directives, laws and decrees as appropriate to implement these principles, particularly as they relate to the resolution of ownership issues.



16 June 2018

"Le premier jour de printemps à Moret", by Alfred Sisley--Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky
“Frühlingslandschaft”
The Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley, produced “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1889, an oil on canvas measuring 46,2 x 56 cm, signed and dated “Sisley. 89” on the lower left of the painting. The first name which appears on the provenance of the painting in the Christie’s sale listing for November 6, 2008, is “Camentron” with no date of acquisition.  There was a “Galerie Martin Camentron” in Paris in the 1890s which acquired a number of Sisley paintings. There was also a “collection Camentron” in which one could find a number of paintings by Sisley. 

The famed “Galerie Durand-Ruel” acquired “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” in 1892 from Camentron, one of several that the gallery acquired, as attested by the provenance of a Sisley painting at the Musée d’Orsay.

Thirty years elapsed before Mr. Perdoux allegedly acquired the Sisley painting. There is nothing to indicate that he bought it from Durand-Ruel. This could be the same Perdoux as Yves Perdoux, a notorious Parisian art dealer who collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France and denounced the locations of a number of Jewish-owned art collections, including that of Paul Rosenberg.

The Lindon family name does not appear in the Christie's provenance of this painting. At some point, the Wildenstein gallery in Paris came into possession of the painting. If one did not know that Lindon was associated with the Sisley painting, it would be impossible to deduce exactly when Wildenstein bought the painting—before, during or after WWII. On or about 1972, “the present owner” of the painting purchased “Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” and brought it to market at Christie’s on November 6, 2008 where Alain Dreyfus acquired it for 338,500 dollars.

So, what happened between Perdoux and Wildenstein?

The theft

Months after the German invasion of France in June 1940, the Lindenbaum/Lindon collection was confiscated and sent to the Jeu de Paume on December 10, 1940.   It included five paintings by Sisley which had been stored in a vault at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon in Paris, until their removal by the German financial police agents with the Devisenschutzkommando (DSK) on December 5, 1940. The inventory drawn up by the DSK agents indicated a painting by Sisley 
excerpt from the DSK inventory
entitled “Frühling in Moret”. The initial inventory drawn up when the Lindenbaum collection first entered the Jeu de Paume in December 1940 showed a painting by Sisley with the following title: “Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”, with a lower left signature and the date “89”. 

The ERR personnel at the Jeu de Paume gave the Sisley painting the title of “Frühlingslandschaft” (Spring landscape) and the number "Li 56"; it described the painting as a “View into a meadow landscape with still bare fruit trees, poplars and bushes. In the background a human figure”.
ERR card for Li 56



In early January 1943, a new inventory of the Lindenbaum collection was drawn up under the supervision of Dr. Schiedlausky, who was the principal manager of the ERR depot of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria near the town of Hohenschwangau close to Fussen. However a number of Impressionist and other modern works from the Lindenbaum collection remained at the Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris and were inventoried there on July 17, 1942 by Dr. Tomforde, one of the main art historians and cataloguers of confiscated collections working for the ERR in Paris. In May 1944, Dr. von Ingram working with Schiedlausky completed the Lindenbaum inventory at Neuschwanstein, including three Sisley paintings slated to be exchanged by the German dealer and agent, Gustav Rochlitz, on Goering’s initiative. Those paintings had been swapped in Paris for a painting by Titian, entitled “Portrait of a young lady” on July 9, 1941. Li 56, “Frühlingslandschaft” remained with Gustav Rochlitz who shipped it to his storage facility in Mühlhofen near Meersburg in southern Bavaria along the shores of Lake Constanz. A handwritten note from a postwar Bavarian official confirmed this possibility.



On September 25, 1945, Alfred Lindon submitted a “final list” of works of art plundered from the vault he had rented at the Chase Safe Deposit Company at 41, rue Cambon before the Germans’ arrival in the French capital. Incidentally, he named the Sisley painting “Sous-bois/printemps rose” and Mr. Lindon indicated that it had been acquired at Durand-Ruel.  Hence, when filling out the provenance advertised by Christie’s in November 2008, one could postulate the following:

Camentron, Paris
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above in April 1892)
Alfred Lindon?
Where does that put Mr. Perdoux (acquired from the above, November 1923)?

Could the 1923 Perdoux reference be a falsehood? If, as Mr. Lindon indicates on his inventory of works lost as a result of looting of the family vault at Chase Safe Deposit Company, he had bought the Sisley from Durand-Ruel, this would throw into question the mention of Perdoux in the provenance supplied to Christie’s. This would not be the first time that a provenance contained fictitious or misleading information. One possibility is that Alfred Lindon acquired the Sisley painting in November 1923 and that Yves Perdoux, if it is him, may have been involved in the recycling of the painting during WWII. He worked with various collaborationist art dealers, in particular Raphael Gérard, to whom he had sold numerous looted objects between 1940 and 1944. Anything is possible…

As a result of an exchange policy approved by the ERR and Hermann Goering, modern paintings confiscated from Jewish collectors were offered to French, Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and German art dealers in exchange for Old Masters which could grace the collections of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. Under exchange (Tausch) No. 10 of July 9, 1941, a number of Lindenbaum paintings, including the Sisley painting in question were offered to Gustav Rochlitz in exchange for a Titian painting. According to Rochlitz’s testimony to the Allies after WWII, he shipped the Sisley and many other paintings he had obtained on the Paris art market, to a storage place that he managed at Mühlhofen near Meesburg in southern Bavaria, along the northern shore of Lake Constanz. Rochlitz misrepresented many of his transactions to Allied interrogators. Therefore, it would not be surprising if the Sisley in question had remained in Paris and been sold or consigned for sale with collaborationists like Yves Perdoux or Raphael Gérard.

In sum, the chain of ownership for the Sisley painting was broken on December 5, 1940. Its post-confiscation disappearance on the Paris art market made it impossible for French and Allied officials to recover the painting and return it to the Lindon family. Knowledge of these illicit market activities was not well-known in the postwar years, except by those who engaged in them, those who benefited from them, and some of the victims who investigated the fate of their lost cultural assets. 

The postwar French directory of looted cultural assets  known as Répertoire des biens spoliés (RBS) includes several paintings by Sisley which include the word “printemps” (spring/Frühling), one of the titles ascribed to the painting by Alfred Lindon, which point to two owners, the estate of Mrs. Berthe Propper and Mr. Lindon. A handwritten annotation in the 1947 RBS catalogue points to the fact that the French government’s investigative file on the whereabouts of the painting was closed on August 5, 1961, an administrative procedure indicating that the French government no longer considered the location of the painting as feasible. In these instances, government officials would tell claimants that they should accept instead a compensatory package from the German government for their losses, 16 years after the end of WWII. Whether or not the Lindon family continued to search for the painting is a question that needs an answer.
crossed-out mention of "Le Printemps" in RBS
Works by Alfred Sisley in lost art databases

www.lootedart.com

The database of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) includes three paintings by Sisley with the word “Spring”, none of which are ascribed to Alfred Lindon.

Lostart.de

The database of looted cultural assets which is managed by the German Lost Art Foundation contains 22 paintings by Alfred Sisley, none of which correspond to the Alfred Lindon painting.

Art Loss Register (ALR)

It’s impossible to know what information on the Sisley the London-based Art Loss Register holds since it is a proprietary database. In general, auction houses and art dealers routinely submit to ALR information on objects on consignment for sale in order to identify any potential problems with title. 

Tentative conclusion
Once Alfred Lindon became dispossessed of the painting on December 5, 1940, the painting became a looted work of art subject to restitution which required it to be returned to its rightful owner. Since it was not located at the end of WWII or thereafter, the painting’s postwar itinerary is illegal. Any transfer of title from one possessor  to the next since 1940 was illegal and amounted to resale and possession of stolen property.  Wildenstein & Cie, one-time owner of the Sisley painting, has contributed to the postwar problem surrounding this painting.

An art dealer's responsibility compels him/her to do systematic due diligence on every object which he/she acquires, sells, or borrows. It does not matter if the object is being offered for sale by an auction house or a gallery or a museum or another art dealer or a private individual. That is his/her professional and ethical responsibility. To treat auction houses differently from other market actors is frankly puzzling and illogical.

It is my frank opinion that if Mondex succeeds in bringing Christie's to heel over the Sisley painting, it will not only undermine one of the more successful restitution experiments in the private art market but also raise serious concerns about the actual meaning of restitution of works and objects of art plundered during the Nazi years by reducing it to a mercenary hunt for cash at whatever the cost. That, frankly, is unethical.  I honestly hope that all parties come to their senses and seek some other form of solution which will benefit the Lindon family, first and foremost.

Additional notes

Titles

Le premier jour de printemps à Moret” by Alfred Sisley, painted in 1889, ended up in the possession of Alfred Lindenbaum/Lindon. The painting, before and after its racially-motivated confiscation, has had different titles prior to its purchase in 2008 by Alain Dreyfus:

“Printemps”
“Sous-bois/printemps rose”
“Frühlingslandschaft”
“Frühlingslandschaft mit blühenden Ostbäumen”
“Frühling in Moret”

Markings

Usually, the ERR staff wrote or stenciled on the back of works it confiscated, especially paintings, the alpha-numeric code that they assigned to the items they catalogued at the Jeu de Paume. Those markings would have been the obvious tip-off that the painting had been stolen during the German occupation of Paris. Was the painting restretched, reframed? Were the markings erased?  If so, who would have stripped the painting down of obvious markings left by the ERR?

Sources:

Bundesarchiv, B323/277 Koblenz, Germany
209SUP 2, 209SUP 603, French Foreign Affairs Ministry Archives, La Courneuve, France
RG 260 M1943 Reel 12, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD