Nazi Looted Art Case: Restitution

There has been continual coverage of the 2011 discovery of over 1,400 Nazi-seized paintings made public this month.  It is a fascinating story with lots of moving parts:

  • The sheer value of the art is tremendous, initial estimates ranging from $1.3 – $1.8 billion.
  • Cornelius Gurlitt, the 80-year-old recluse who inherited the works is a very interesting character, to say the least.
  • But the reason the case is being so widely covered and getting so much attention…Restitution
Work recovered believed to be by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Work recovered believed to be by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Photo Credit: Michael Dalder/Reuters

Confiscated artwork does not equal restitution. In 1938, the Nazi government ordered all state-run museums to remove “degenerate art” from their collections.  As a matter of fact, proof that a piece was in a German museum prior to 1938 is good proof that it was not stolen from a Jewish family.  No moral dilemma.

There is a great article out by the New York Times today that goes into detail on the 1938 law that gave Nazi’s the right to seize “degenerate art” and sell it in the open market.  Very interesting and informative read discussing how to handle the law, which is still on the books today – check it out.

-M.P. Callender
Signet Art

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