The recent withdrawal of paintings from touring exhibitions for
criminal investigation has prompted some of the world's leading museum
directors to form a task force to look into the ownership of art works
confiscated by the Nazis. Francine Cunningham reports When the Pierre
Bonnard retrospective moved from London to New York where it opened at
Museum of Modern Art recently two subtle, pastel-coloured paintings of
female nudes were missing. Their owners withdrew the paintings after
several other artworks loaned to the museum were seized in the search
for Nazi plunder.
One of the collectors said explicitly that he had acted because of
the ownership dispute involving two Egon Schiele paintings detained
in New York after they were borrowed for a MoMA show in January. The
Schiele paintings, on loan from the Leopold Foundation in Austria,
are being held in New York while the district attorney's office
carries out a criminal investigation.
The absence of two Bonnard paintings is the latest sign of alarm in
the art world over works with a Nazi-clouded past. The missing
paintings, Grey Nude in Profile and Standing Nude were on view when
the exhibition showed at the Tate Gallery in London.
United States museums now dread the possibility that other collectors
will refuse to lend European paintings in case they are seized during
international shows. "When lenders see what happened to the Schiele
paintings it makes them nervous, even if they haven't any reason to
doubt their artworks," said Elizabeth Addison, Deputy Director for
Communications at MoMA. "The potential that something could happen is
Since the collapse of Communism, Eastern European families, in
particular, have been actively pursuing the trail of artworks
confiscated during the second World War. A Hungarian Jew, Gabor Bedo,
whose father, Rudolf, sent his £5 million art collection to London for
safekeeping during the war, will lodge a compensation claim against
the British government this week.
Rudolf Bedo's collection of 150 paintings included a Renoir
still-life and a landscape by the 17th century Dutch master, Jan van
Goyen. He was just one of thousands of Jews who lodged property and
accounts in Britain during the second World War.
But the Trading with the Enemy Act, allowed the UK authorities to
freeze the property of all residents of enemy or enemy-occupied
countries. The British government sold Mr Bedo's collection at auction
in 1955. A scientist with a passion for art, Rudolf Bedo survived the
war but lost his sister in Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Mr Bedo
died in 1978, before the Communists fell and he had the opportunity to
pursue a claim for the art collection.
The British government promised earlier this year to repay assets
confiscated from Nazi victims. Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former
chairman of Amnesty International, was appointed this week as
independent assessor to compensation claims against the UK government.
Mr Bedo's case could open the floodgates for many other compensation
The subject of wartime plunder has become such a hot issue in the art
world, some of the world's leading museum directors have also got
together to form a task force. Earlier this month, the Association of
Art Museum Directors held a brainstorming session to come up with new
guidelines on how to deal with stolen artworks.
Under the chairmanship of Philippe de Montebello, director of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the group urged museums to
review their collections to establish if any works were unlawfully
confiscated by the Nazi régime.
The task force called for the creation of computerised research files
to cross-reference claims and stolen works of art. Institutions were
asked to scrutinise the origins of artworks before purchasing them or
accepting them as gifts.
In recent years many second World War documents have been
declassified, allowing art experts more information about the
ownership of European artworks. But some curators are worried that
they will become over-burdened with research into the provenance of
artworks. This could reduce the amount of European works available to
Mr Montebello stressed that museums are "committed to acting swiftly
and proactively to conduct the necessary research that will help us
learn as much as possible about works for which full ownership records
previously have not been available."
For decades, US museums have counted on federal or state laws that
protect art loans from detention or seizure. But a New York district
attorney claimed that state law did not shield artworks under criminal
investigation, when he ordered MoMA to detain the Schiele paintings
instead of returning them to Vienna.
MoMA had received two letters from Jewish families claiming that the
Schiele paintings were stolen or misappropriated from their rightful
owners when the Nazis annexed Austria (1938-1945).
Henry Bondi wrote that his aunt, Lea Bondi, owned Portrait of Wally
when Nazi collaborators took the painting from her apartment without
her consent. Lea Bondi died in 1969, having attempted three years
earlier to recover the painting.
RITA and Kathleen Reif, relatives of Fritz Grunbaum, stated that the
painting Dead City III was taken from Mr Grunbaum's collection without
his consent by Nazi agents or collaborators after his arrest in
Austria. He later died in the Dachau concentration camp.
A New York district attorney is now investigating claims that the
works made their way improperly into private collections after the
second World War. Last month a US court ruling said that the Museum of
Modern Art could return the two borrowed Egon Schiele paintings
despite a continuing criminal investigation into their ownership. But
the New York district attorney examining the charges is appealing the
decision. Art world experts predict that it could be a long time
before the works are returned to Austria, even if the court decision
The leading international museums rely on borrowing paintings from
overseas to present first-rate shows. But the issue of art stolen
during the Holocaust is provoking changes in policy. "I do think that
everyone is becoming much more sensitised to this issue and most
museums are taking extra precautions with their own collections. At
MoMA, we are doing research on all works from this historic period,
says Ms Addison.
MoMA breathed a sigh of relief when the Netherlands decided not to
contest a claim to a painting by Vincent Van Gogh recently left to the
museum by a private collector. The Dutch government says it has a
right to Olive Trees, estimated to be worth around £21 million pounds.
But the Dutch authorities said that they would not demand the
painting's return to set an example and avoid a circus of claims and
Other institutions are taking new measures to protect their
collections. Before the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, shipped
three dozen works by Paul Klee to an exhibition in Berlin recently,
museum officials wrote to German museums asking if they had any claims
on them. In Washington, the US State Department is now assessing
whether new regulations are needed to protect international cultural
loans from seizure.
Ethical problems surrounding paintings confiscated by the Nazi regime
threaten the free flow of art work across the Atlantic. But the
world's top museums cannot afford to turn a blind eye to stolen art.
THE Government is believed to have struck a secret deal allowing one
of the most important private collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings
in Britain, estimated to be worth up to £60 million, to be exported
permanently to America. The deal was described as "scandalous"
yesterday by leading Conservatives who demanded an urgent explanation
from Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary. West End art dealers claimed
the highly unusual deal had been arranged "in total secrecy" and
appeared to drive a coach and horses through rules governing the
export of works of art.
The collection, including major works by Millais, Holman Hunt,
Rossetti and Burne-Jones, was owned by the late Lord Sherfield,
formerly Sir Roger Makins, a colourful former British ambassador to
Washington who died in 1996. He left around 300 Pre-Raphaelite
paintings, sketches and studies to his heirs.
Many of the works - though no one is certain which or how many - have
been granted export licences by the Government in the past 12 months
so that they could be moved permanently to the home of his son, the
second Lord Sherfield, also a former diplomat.
It is believed that the Government's Reviewing Committee on the
Export of Works of Art ruled that none of the works were of
exceptional national importance.
Neither the Government nor Lord Sherfield will say which works have
been taken out of the country, causing anger and alarm among
Pre-Raphaelite collectors and dealers in London. They say that Lord
Sherfield is now free to sell them at any time to major American
museums such as the Getty with no obligation to offer them to British
Under the arrangement, Britain is likely to keep just one of the
works, Sir John Millais's masterpiece Mariana at the Moated Grange
painted in 1851. The Government is understood to be negotiating to
waive around £5 million in lieu of death duties on the first Lord
Sherfield's estate in exchange for the oil going to the Tate Gallery
Yesterday British dealers and collectors, including the composer Lord
Lloyd-Webber who has a major Pre-Raphaelite collection, strongly
contested the Government's assessment of Lord Sherfield's paintings.
Lord Lloyd-Webber, who saw some of the paintings before Lord Sherfield
died, called it "the most important collection of Pre-Raphaelites in
private hands in Britain".
David Mason, a West End dealer, said: "We know that a lot has gone to
Washington, but we don't know what. I think the loss to Britain is
incalculable because the collection includes several seminal examples
of the most eminent Pre-Raphaelites." Another prominent dealer,
Christopher Wood, accused the Government of "being extremely
economical with the truth". He believed that many important works were
lost to Britain for good.
Peter Ainsworth, shadow culture secretary, yesterday demanded that Mr
Smith give "a full and complete explanation of what has been allowed
out of the country". He said: "As far as we know, the collection
includes some paintings of national importance and it seems very
disturbing that they could slide out of the country without anybody
knowing. On the face of it, it seems scandalous but there is a shroud
of secrecy over the whole affair and we don't know enough details. The
lack of openness is disturbing."
The collection is thought to contain a number of important studies
and sketches for larger paintings and a number of major masterpieces,
notably two paintings by Millais, Ferdinand lured by Ariel and A
Huguenot on St Bartholomew's Day, and two by William Holman Hunt, The
Hireling Shepherd and Love at First Sight. Another important work is
Sir Edward Burne-Jones's Fair Rosamond and Queen Eleanor, painted in
Mr Mason said he had approached Lord Sherfield's executors about
selling the collection, which he estimated as being worth £60 million.
He said he could think of 30 or 40 other British collectors who might
have bought the works and kept them in this country.
Many of the major works come from the late 1840s and early 1850s when
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - as Millais, Holman Hunt and Rosssetti
styled themselves - startled the art establishment with their
shocking, ultra-realistic, romantic and often sensual paintings. The
present Lord Sherfield's great-grandfather was a close friend of
Millais and began the family collection.
Under rules on exporting of works of art, any application to send
abroad an item valued at more than £39,000 must be referred to a
reviewing committee to decide whether it is of national importance.
The committee may defer the granting of a licence for objects of
importance and, where the object is being sold abroad, allow time for
a British gallery, museum or private collectors to raise a matching
sum to keep the object in this country.
It is thought the licences were granted late last year and this year
and that all the paintings are now in Washington. Lord Lloyd-Webber
said: "The real worry is they will be sold abroad. It seems we should
either have export laws that stop that happening or abolish them
David Barrie, director of the National Arts Collections Fund, the
leading charity in saving works of art for this country, said his body
had not been consulted. He said: "It would be nice to know exactly
what is going on. On the face of it, if a really important collection
has left the country without there being adequate discussion, then it
is worrying." The Department of Culture said yesterday: "We cannot say
anything. The details about export licences given are confidential."
The Telegraph was unable to contact Lord Sherfield. Last night Julian
Agnew, his London dealer, said: "During 1997 and 1998 various
paintings from the estate of Lord Sherfield which had been left to his
son Christopher Makins (the second Lord Sherfield) were exported to
his home in Washington DC. Where necessary, export licences were
applied for and granted according to the usual procedures. There is no
'deal' or connection between the offer in lieu and the grant of export
licences. It is Mr Makins's intention to keep the collection together
for his own enjoyment and that of his family."
In a major victory for the family of two Holocaust victims, a wealthy
Chicago art collector agreed yesterday to surrender possession of an
Edgar Degas landscape that was allegedly plundered from the art
collection of a Dutch Jewish couple who died in Nazi concentration
Drug company heir Daniel C. Searle decided to surrender possession
just before a federal court jury in Chicago was to hear the case, and
amid growing public interest in how artworks plundered in
Nazi-occupied Europe nearly 60 years ago made their way into American
Under terms of the settlement, Searle will cede a half interest in
the landscape to the heirs of Friedrich and Louise Gutmann and donate
the remaining half to the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum, in
turn, will acquire the Degas by having it appraised and paying
Gutmann's heirs half the value of the work.
Searle, by art world standards, was the typical innocent purchaser
when he paid $850,000 in 1987 for the Degas pastel monotype,
``Landcsape with Smokestacks,'' asking few questions about its past
ownership and relying on the expertise of curators from the Art
Institute. They hoped that Searle, a museum trustee, would donate the
Degas to the museum.
But according to pretrial depositions reported last year, two museum
curators missed evidence pointing to flaws in the monotype's
ownership records, including the fact that it was once owned by Hans
Wendland, perhaps the most succcessful wartime fence for art looted by
The lawsuit, filed two years ago by the Gutmanns' daughter, Lili
Gutmann, and her two nephews, Nick and Simon Goodman of Los Angeles,
was the most prominent of a number of recent legal disputes over
wartime looting, because of Searle's prominence, the museum's
involvement, and the tragedy that befell Freidrich and Louise Gutmann.
Among the major Jewish art collectors in Western Europe whose
collections were confiscated by the Nazis, the Gutmanns were the only
ones who lost their lives as well. Friedrich Gutmann was beaten to
death at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia; Louise Gurmann died in the
gas chambers at Auschwitz in Poland.
The settlement was amicable, according to a statement released
yesterday by the Art Institute on behalf of Searle and the Gutmann
heirs. ``This settlement, which allows us to preserve the pastel's
history in one of the country's finest art museums, represents a fair
resolution to this complex issue,'' said Nick Goodman.
James N. Wood, the museum's director, said the settlement allows the
museum ``to bring an important work of art to the public while taking
into account the history of World War II and the Holocaust.''
Wood is a prominent member of a panel of the Association of Art
Museum Directors, which pledged in June that member museums would do a
thorough search of their collections to ensure that none of their
artworks were unrecovered wartime loot.
Beneath the surface, though, bubbles an intense debate over the
extent to which the American art world, in its eagerness to acquire
works by famous European artists like Degas during and after the war,
sometimes ignored warning signs about the origin of some of that art.
``This is a great day for the Art Institute,'' Willi Korte, an art
investigator who worked for Gutmann's heirs, said last night. ``The
museum gets a very nice landscape they wanted from the beginning, and
they avoid a great number of embarrassing questions at the trial.''
Among other things, the two curators testified in pretrial
depositions that they were unaware of wartime looting. Estimates
vary, but many scholars believe the Nazis plundered about one-fifth of
the world's art treasures in occupied Europe.
A museum spokeswoman could not be reached last night to comment on
Korte's remark. But in the past, the museum and its attorneys have
said the curators took reasonable precautions before recommending that
Searle buy the Degas. The Impressionist was noted for his monotypes,
works pressed onto paper after being painted on glass with printing
ink, and then enhanced by pastels. ``Ravishing'' was how one Art
Institute curator described the landscape.
Thomas R. Kline of Washington, the Gutmann heirs' attorney, said last
night that Friedrich Gutmann sent the Degas, along with other works,
to a Paris art dealer for safekeeping before the Nazis overran Holland
in 1940. But Kline said the Paris dealer, also a Jew, fled when the
Nazis invaded France, and that records show that members of the Nazi
art looting unit seized the dealer's wares.
Searle's lawyers had argued, however, that the Degas was not listed
among the seized artworks, and that Gutmann had sent it to Paris for
sale, not safekeeping.
But after a federal judge ruled earlier this month that the case
would be tried before a jury starting Sept. 9, Searle, according to
investigator Korte, agreed to a settlement the Gutmann heirs proposed
more than a year ago. Korte said he believes Searle spent more than $1
million in legal fees.
All told, the Gutmanns lost more than 40 works of art, many of which
have never been recovered. Kline, their attorney, who has several
major successes recovering looted art for victims, last year obtained
a settlement on a Botticelli the family once owned. He is now
pursuing for them a Renoir that is believed to be owned by a British
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 08/14/98.