admin December 11th, 2011
Après la confirmation de son appartenance aux collections nationales établie par le ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, notamment grâce au numéro d’inventaire inscrit au revers de la toile, Sotheby’s a retiré le tableau de la vente prévue le 3 décembre dernier.
Le ministre de la Culture et de la Communication tient à remercier vivement l’amateur ayant signalé l’oeuvre et la société Sotheby’s, pour son efficace médiation. Il remercie aussi chaleureusement le détenteur américain, qui avait hérité de cette oeuvre à la mort de son père en 2008, d’avoir consenti à rendre le tableau sans contreparties et lui adresse toute sa reconnaissance pour ce beau geste accompli en faveur des musées français.
Le Ministre salue enfin l’action exemplaire des autorités américaines, douanes, justice et bureau de liaison Interpol, qui ont travaillé pour permettre la restitution rapide de cette oeuvre en étroite coopération avec le service des musées de France de la direction générale des patrimoines et l’Office central de lutte contre le trafic des biens culturels – OCBC. Le dénouement heureux de la situation est un succès partagé par tous les acteurs impliqués.
Le tableau vient d’être rendu par le Service de l’Immigration et des Douanes (U.S. Immigration and Custioms Enforcement) à l’Etat par l’intermédiaire de l’Ambassade de France aux Etats-Unis, dont le concours dans cette affaire a été extrêmement précieux.
A l’occasion du retour officiel du tableau sur le territoire national, Frédéric Mitterrand présidera, le 2 février prochain, une cérémonie au ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, avant que le tableau ne retrouve les cimaises d’un musée.
admin January 25th, 2011
admin October 5th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Israel Museum returns Nazi-looted artwork
September 29, 2010
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Museum has restituted a Paul Klee drawing to the estate of the Jewish art collector who owned the work before it was looted by the Nazis.
Klee’s 1920 drawing was owned by Harry Fuld J. from 1932 until 1941. Fuld left “Veil Dance” and several other works with a transportation firm when he fled for England in 1937. In 1941, following a new law by which Jewish citizens who had left Germany lost their German nationality and property, his citizenship and assets were revoked, and his art collection was confiscated by the Third Reich.
The drawing was received in 1950 by the Israel Museum’s precursor, the Bezalel National Museum, through the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, established
after World War II to distribute looted works of art whose owners or heirs were unknown to cultural organizations around the globe.
Fuld died in 1963, and left his estate to his housekeeper Gita Gisela Martin. At her death in 1992, she left her estate to the United Kingdom’s branch of Magen David Adom,
After new research brought the drawing’s provenance to light, the museum transferred the drawing to Magen David Adom, according to a news release issued by the Israel Museum.
“The Israel Museum strives to serve as a model for responsible restitution, and we are pleased to do so now by restituting this work in exemplary fashion, as we have in other instances in the past,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum.
The museum in 2008 restituted two ancient Roman gold-glass medallions to the heirs of the Dzialynska Collection at Goluchow Castle in Poland. Also, in 2005, Edgar Degas’ charcoal drawing “Four Nude Female Dancers Resting” was restituted to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a noted Dutch art dealer who died while fleeing the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. And in 2000, the Museum returned Camille Pissarro’s “Boulevard Montmarte” to the heir of Holocaust victim Max Silberberg, who placed the painting on long-term loan to the museum.
admin September 29th, 2010
German court order return of stolen Cypriot treasures
By Natali Hami and George Psyllides Published on September 28, 2010
SCORES of valuable religious artefacts looted from churches in the Turkish-occupied north are a step closer to repatriation following the decision of a German court.
Last week, a court in Munich ordered the return of the artefacts stolen by Turkish national Aydin Dikmen, after the invasion of the island in 1974.
Among the recovered antiquities are frescoes from the monastery of Christou tou Antifoniti, dating back to the 15th Century, a 6th-Century mosaic from the church of the Panayia Kanakaria, murals from the church of the Panayia Pergamiotissa and two icons that originated from the monastery of Saint Chrysostomos.
The antiquities had been recovered by Bavarian police in 1997, hidden inside the walls and under the floorboards in two apartments kept by Dikmen in Munich, under false names.
The Church of Cyprus was unable to repatriate the artefacts despite repeated efforts and it was decided to file a civil law suit against Dikmen.
The trial started in April 2009 with the court last week deciding that the Church had succeeded in proving the provenance of the treasures.
But it could be another two months before the case clears.
“The other side has a month to appeal after receiving the full text of the decision,” said senior state attorney Ioannis Lazarou.
It is understood that neither side has the full text yet.
Lazarou said Cyprus had to prove the provenance of the artefacts — first of all that they came from Cyprus; from these specific churches in the occupied areas and that they were in fact there during the invasion.
“This had to be done for each item,” Lazarou said.
The artefacts were discovered after a raid on October 10, 1997.
Dikmen was arrested following an eight-month sting operation in which Dutch art dealer Michael van Rijn cooperated.
He had been videotaped when he tried to sell the treasures.
Van Rijn cooperated with the police but later refused to testify against Dikmen after he had received death threats.
Many churches in the north of Cyprus have been looted following the invasion and Dikmen seems to have played the main role in selling the artworks stripped from them.
In 1988, Dikmen, Van Rijn, and their associate Robert Fitzgerald sold four Kanakaria moisaics to Indianapolis dealer Peg Goldberg for more that $1 million.
The mosaics were ordered returned to the Church of Cyprus after a 1989 trial in a federal court.
In 1984, Dikmen sold the Menil Foundation of Houston 13th-century frescoes from Ayios Themonianos church near Lysi.
Cypriot authorities approved the purchase on the condition that the frescoes, now displayed in Houston, would eventually be returned to Cyprus.
admin September 28th, 2010
German court orders Cypriot treasures return
• Mon, Sep 27, 2010
A German court has ordered the repatriation of priceless Cypriot treasures, stolen from Cyprus’ northern Turkish occupied part of the country.
A press release, issued by the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus, says that in 2004 the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of the Maronites and the Church of the Armenians filed a civil law suit before Munich District Court to retrieve stolen antiquities, which had been in the custody for the Bavarian authorities since 1997.
The said antiquities were located in 1997 by the Bavarian police, hidden in between walls and under the floor of two flats which belong to a Turkish national, Aydin Dickmen, in Munich. Part of the findings include religious icons, part of mosaics and pieces of Byzantine frescoes of priceless historic, cultural and religious value.
Since these were located, the government and the Church of Cyprus had made several moves to have these artifacts repatriated. The moves did not yield any results and it was decided to file a civil law suit before the German courts. On Thursday, 23 September, Munich District Court issued its decision on the law suit against Dickmen which vindicated fully the Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus.
“The Court ruling puts an end to a difficult and hard legal battle, which lasted six years, by ordering the return of our cultural heritage treasures,” the press release said. It added that the Court ruling is subject to appeal. — (KYPE)
admin September 27th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Iraqi authorities demand Israel return antique Torah scroll
By DAVID E. MILLER | THE MEDIA LINE
Published: Aug 31, 2010 00:04 Updated: Aug 31, 2010 00:04
Iraq is demanding Israeli authorities return an antique Torah scroll smuggled into Israel in the early 1950s.
Israel’s Arutz Sheva reported that the ancient scroll, written in the early twentieth century, was extracted from Iraq after the Gabbai family in the Iraqi city of Al-Hila bribed a local official. The family patriarch, Moshe Gabbai, worked in the town’s synagogue.
The scroll was then donated by the family to the Center for the Heritage of Babylon Jewry in the Israeli city of Or-Yehuda.
“This scroll is part of Iraq’s cultural heritage, just like the heritage of other countries in the world,” Abd Al-Zahra Al-Talqani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told The Media Line.
“When we discovered the publication in the Israeli media, we began to investigate the matter and turned to the National Center for Manuscripts in Iraq. They told us the scroll was not stolen from the center.”
Al-Talqani said the scroll either belonged to an Iraqi library, to a Jewish establishment in Iraq, or was someone’s private artifact. He added that the Ministry of Tourism and Artifacts immediately contacted Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization) and the Iraqi foreign Ministry with requests to exert diplomatic efforts to retrieve the scroll.
“We are still following the matter and investigating it,” Al-Talqani added.
Mordechai Ben-Porat, director of the Center for the Heritage of Babylon Jewry denied any knowledge of the Iraqi demand.
“I didn’t hear that they were asking for it,” Ben-Porat said, referring to the Iraqi Torah scroll. “In Iraq they suspect we have other things from there, and they threatened to turn to UNESCO about six months or a year ago.”
Al-Talqani said the Israeli report was tantamount to an admission of theft.
“Israel’s announcement that the scroll is in its territory is an implicit admission that it was smuggled from Iraq,” Al-Talqani told the Aswat Al-Iraq news agency. “We will demand the return of the Torah scroll to the country through diplomatic channels.”
Al-Talqani said that following UN Security Council resolution 1483 from 2003, demanding that countries return stolen artifacts to Iraq, many countries began to cooperate with the Iraqi government.
Al-Talqani argued that the Iraqis did not single out Israel.
“In April 2008 Syria returned 702 artifacts; two months later Jordan returned 2,470 – the highest number received from a country. Other countries including Italy, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and most recently Turkey have all returned artifacts as well.”
According to Al-Talqani, the Israel Antiquities Authority agreed to cooperate with Iraq in the past.
“There are additional Iraqi antiquities that entered Israel through trading and smuggling. The spokeswoman of the Israel Antiquities Authority admitted this and said she was prepared to work directly with Iraq, or through a mediator.”
Culture Program Specialist at the UNESCO office for Iraq, Tamar Teneishvili, said that Iraq could legally retrieve the Torah scroll.
“If it were proven that the object was stolen, it will be returned,” she told The Media Line.
“If the Iraqis know where it was stolen from and when, they can turn to the Interpol and start the process of restitution. It is possible.”
admin August 31st, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Schiele Art Back In Austria After Ownership Feud
by The Associated Press
VIENNA August 23, 2010, 11:34 am ET
A 12-year battle over the possession of a painting that was stolen from a Jewish Austrian by the Nazis came to a close on Monday when the work by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele was displayed at a Vienna museum.
The oil painting was returned over the weekend after the Leopold Museum agreed to pay $19 million (15 million euros) as part of the settlement to the estate of art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray, the original owner.
U.S. authorities had refused to return the painting to the Leopold Museum after it was exhibited in 1998 at the New York Museum of Modern Art because of a claim by her descendants.
Bondi Jaray was forced to sell the painting, “Portrait of Wally,” at an unrealistically low price in the prelude to World War II as part of a widespread Nazi campaign that stripped Jews in Austria, Germany and later other European countries of their possessions.
“Portrait of Wally” — which pictures Valerie “Wally” Neuzil, a woman Schiele knew and used as a model — was among more than 100 works the Leopold Foundation had leant to MoMA.
U.S. customs refused to let the work leave the country after Henry Bondi of Princeton, New Jersey, filed a claim that said his late aunt was forced to give up the painting before fleeing Vienna in 1939 to escape to London when Germany annexed Austria.
She died in 1969. Henry Bondi also has since died.
The controversy over the portrait, which the Leopold Museum acquired after the war, contributed to Austria passing a 1998 law that stipulates the restitution of property taken from the country’s Jews by the Nazis.
But the restitution law applies to state institutions, not to private museums such as the Leopold Foundation — something that Vienna’s Jewish community asserts was exploited by Leopold.
The museum was created by the late Rudolf Leopold. He is credited with assembling Austria’s largest and most important private art collection, which includes more than 5,000 works by renowned artists such as Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.
According to the Jewish community’s website, paintings by Schiele, Klimt and Egger-Lienz that were looted by the Nazis were bought by the Austrian state with public funds and given to the Leopold Foundation.
The foundation acknowledges that it is not ruled by the restitution law, but denies any wrongdoing.
Andreas Noedl, who sits on the Leopold museum’s board, acknowledged the gross injustice done to Austria’s Jews, telling reporters on Monday that the portrait “reflects the history of the horrendous atrocities during the Holocaust.”
Leopold Museum chief Peter Weinhaeupl called the return a “symbolic day” for the museum.
Online: http://www.raubkunst.at and http://www.leopoldmuseum.org
admin August 24th, 2010
Vienna Psychotherapist Tackles Nazi-Era Art Claims at Museum
By Catherine Hickley – Aug 17, 2010 7:00 PM ET Tue Aug 17 23:00:01 GMT 2010
“Portrait of Wally” (1912) by Egon Schiele. The Leopold Museum in Vienna paid $19 million in a settlement, ending a decades-long dispute between the museum and the heirs of Jewish art dealer, Lea Bondi Jaray. Source: Leopold Museum via Bloomberg
Diethard Leopold, a Viennese psychotherapist and son of Rudolf Leopold, founder of the Leopold Museum. Leopold says he aims to settle all outstanding Nazi-era claims for art in the museum’s collection within a year. Photographer: Ian Ehm/Leopold Museum via Bloomberg
Diethard Leopold, a Viennese psychotherapist whose father founded the Leopold Museum, is aiming to settle all outstanding Nazi-era claims for art in its collection within a year.
Leopold, who is 54, was appointed to the board of the museum’s foundation by his father in June, days before Rudolf Leopold’s death. In July, the museum agreed to pay $19 million to the heirs of the Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray to settle a decades-long dispute over Egon Schiele’s portrait of his lover Wally, stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s.
“The museum is striving to solve these problems in a speedy, effective, comprehensive and, most of all, amicable manner,” Leopold said over coffee in the museum cafe yesterday. “I do feel that more weight should have been put behind these efforts in the past. A solution within the coming year is a realistic option. I don’t think it should take longer.”
The Leopold Museum owns 44 Schiele paintings and 180 works on paper, the biggest collection of the artist worldwide. During Rudolf Leopold’s lifetime — he died on June 29 at the age of 85 — the museum argued that as a private foundation, it was not subject to Austria’s restitution law, which only applies to federal government museums. It is planning to sell some of the Schiele works on paper to pay for the “Wally” purchase.
Its failure to resolve claims by Nazi victims and their heirs led to protests by groups such as the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, which hung posters and stuck tape around the museum declaring it an “art crime scene” in 2008.
“The last 10 years have damaged the reputation of the museum,” said the bespectacled Leopold, who has bushy eyebrows and wears an open-necked shirt and suit. “Under Austrian law, the Leopold Museum is unambiguously the owner of these works. But I do not believe that we should insist on our legal prerogative and say that is the end of the story.
“We are very much aware that not all of the crimes that were committed in the Nazi era have been addressed so far,” Leopold said. “We are also aware that in those cases where it is in our power to set the record straight, speedy and effective solutions are required. In principle we now want to speak to the heirs directly — I think that is the most effective way.”
Leopold said he has grasped the initiative himself, approaching the heirs. An Austrian government panel found that three paintings in the museum’s collection by Anton Romako should be returned to the heir of Oskar Reichel, one of Vienna’s most important prewar collectors.
Talks With Heiress
“There is an heiress, a private person who lives in Vienna,” Leopold said. “I wrote to her and she phoned back and we met up. I just didn’t want to wait any longer. The contact was positive. I am optimistic we will come to a solution soon.”
One of the most high-profile outstanding restitution cases involves Schiele’s “Houses by the Sea,” which belonged to Jenny Steiner, whose art collection was seized by the Gestapo. Leopold said he has proposed selling the painting at auction and dividing the revenue according to an agreed percentage between the heirs and the museum.
“Or we can restitute it and simultaneously buy it back for a proportion of the value that is agreed upon beforehand,” Leopold said. “I am more in favor of the second solution as we then know the painting would stay on public view. It will be difficult to unite the heirs in a common approach.”
“Wally” returns to Vienna at the end of this week and the Leopold Museum will stage a special exhibition focusing on the history of Schiele and his muse, who volunteered as a nurse in World War I and died in Croatia. The painting will be displayed with a notice explaining its provenance, a text agreed by the museum and the heirs.
Leopold said he’s confident that “Wally” is worth the $19 million the museum will pay. The foundation’s sale of works to pay for it will probably be at an international auction in the next three years, Leopold said. Rudolf Leopold drew up a list of the works that could be sold before his death.
“The price was certainly a bit higher because my father absolutely wanted the painting back,” he said. “But there are many times over the years when everyone said my father paid too much for an artwork and that he was crazy, then 10 years later, they say it was cheap. This could happen with ‘Wally’ too.”
Leopold estimates that only about 1 percent of the museum’s artworks come from Jewish prewar collections, so not more than 50 works. He aims to complete provenance research on those paintings by the end of the year.
“It has taken a long time to do the work so far,” he said. “If we put it on track now, we can do it.”
Once the claims are resolved, Leopold said he wants to hold an exhibition about Viennese prewar collections, examining the fate of their owners and the artworks.
The psychologist wrote a book about his father’s passion for collecting that was published in 2008. He laughed when asked whether he has a similar obsession.
“My obsession is in another area — I do Japanese archery,” he said. “It is an art, very subtle and existential. It gives me the strength and balance to deal with this sensitive and thorny business.”
(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)
admin August 18th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Monday, Aug. 16, 2010
Artifact transfer may cause friction
Ownership question could keep in Japan some Korean items seized during colonial rule
Despite Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s promise last week to give back artifacts to South Korea taken from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule, major differences on the matter between the two countries could lead to a new diplomatic flash point, experts say.
In Kan’s statement Aug. 10 apologizing for Japan’s 1910 annexation of Korea, he promised to “transfer” archives “that were brought to Japan during the period of Japan’s rule through the Japanese colonial government of Korea” and are still in the hands of the government.
Based on the statement, released ahead of the Aug. 29 centennial of the start of Japan’s colonial rule, the central government has begun arrangements for such a transfer, including identifying relevant artifacts and drafting a treaty governing the matter, sources said.
The archives to be handed over will include the Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, but they are likely to be a “small portion” of the vast artifacts kept in Japan, one source said.
That is because Tokyo takes the position that Seoul’s right to claim them disappeared with the conclusion of an agreement in 1965 along with that of the Treaty on Basic Relations that normalized relations between the two countries.
In South Korea, people generally view such artifacts as having been stolen by Japan and calls are mounting for most items to be returned, the experts said.
There is a gap in perception between Seoul and Tokyo, which views the proposed handover as a “goodwill” gesture, according to the sources.
Tokyo plans to look into archives at the Imperial Household Agency and other facilities, including the Tokyo National Museum, according to other sources.
In his statement, Kan attached the additional condition that the archives to be handed over must be in possession of the Japanese government. This was because “privately held cultural artifacts, which amount to an enormous number, would otherwise be subject to the handover,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, or the Joseon Wangsil Uigwe, are stored at the Imperial Household Agency and consist of 167 volumes. Of those, 163 were moved from the colonial government to the agency’s forerunner during the Taisho Era (1912-1926), and the remaining four volumes were purchased from the private sector.
South Korea’s National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage says at least 61,000 cultural items were moved to Japan after the 1910 annexation.
If mishandled, the matter could set off criticism from South Korea that Japan is not being sincerely remorseful despite Kan’s expression of “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” in the statement, observers say.
On the other hand, voices could arise within Japan that the government is conceding too much if Japan decides to hand over more artifacts to South Korea than people here consider appropriate, they say.
Japan and South Korea confirmed in the mid-1960s that in exchange for Tokyo’s provision to Seoul of $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans, problems concerning property, rights, interests and claims between the two countries were settled “completely and finally.”
Praise from S. Korea
SEOUL (Kyodo) South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan wrote in an opinion piece published Monday in the Korea Herald that Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s apology last week for Japan’s annexation of Korea was “timely and appropriate.”
Yu said Kan’s statement marking the annexation’s 100th anniversary is “highly meaningful as the first ever Japanese prime minister’s statement specifically addressed only to (South) Korea.”
admin August 17th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Eastern Europe under spotlight on art restitution
By GEORGE JAHN
The Associated Press
Monday, August 2, 2010; 6:23 AM
BUDAPEST, Hungary — A tug-of-war in the United States over who owns a huge art trove seized by Hungary’s Nazi henchmen is the most prominent example of disputed restitution policies in formerly communist eastern Europe – but by no means the only one.
Heirs of Jewish banker Baron Mor Lipot Herzog filed suit last week against the Hungarian government in U.S. District Court in Washington. They also are suing several state-owned museums to try to recover the works.
But uncounted other works and collections hanging on museum walls in Bucharest, Belgrade or Budapest also were once the property of Jews, who were coerced into handing them over by Germany’s Nazi allies or simply abandoned them as they fled for their lives.
Other examples of the expropriated art are unlikely to be as valuable as the works claimed by the Herzog heirs – which includes El Grecos, van Dycks, Velazquez and Monets and is estimated to be worth more than $100 million.
But collectively, the paintings, sculptures and other objets d’art scattered across Russia, the former Soviet bloc and other previously communist European nations may exceed that amount.
Nobody knows – because in most cases there are either no reliable records of how the museums came to ownership, or no laws governing restitution. In some cases both are lacking.
A paper presented last year at a Prague conference reviewing the restitution records of dozens of countries endorsing the return of Jewish property found some fault with most European nations on the issue. But it gave the worst grades to Russia, the Soviet Union’s former European republics, and those of the now dissolved communist Yugoslavia.
Of the 18 countries in this category, the overview – drawn up by the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization – found that only the Czech Republic and Slovakia had both enacted restitution laws governing art and were conducting provenance research.
It named Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine as countries that did not “appear to have made significant progress” in implementing 1998 commitments. Such responsibilities include establishing the origin of suspicious art works, developing legal processes for restoration and proactively seeking out Jewish heirs of such works.
Before the Holocaust, Jews owned property in Europe worth between $10 billion and $15 billion at the time, according to a 2007 study by economist Sidney Zabludoff.
Most was taken and never returned or paid for, translating into a missing $115 billion to $175 billion in current prices, the study said. Initially, many Western European governments paid restitution for only a fraction of the stolen assets, while Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc paid almost nothing at all, it said.
“There were Jewish people of substance in these various countries who owned art,” notes Judah Best, a Washington lawyer and a commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. “They either bargained their art away to escape, or they never escaped.”
Part of the reason for the lack of transparency in the East may be decades of scant attention to the region during its time on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
With the international focus on them, Germany and Austria have long enacted – and enforced – laws regulating returns of art looted by the Nazis. Many other West European nations have followed suit or are in the process of doing so.
But most nations in the former Soviet bloc are lagging.
Restitution was not an issue while communists ruled. The Soviet Union raided Germany and other enemy territory for art troves in the dying days of World War II – and thus indirectly looted tremendous amounts of art confiscated by the Nazis from the Jews. To date, there is no record of any such pirated art being directly returned by the Kremlin to Jewish heirs.
In contrast wartime culprits Germany and Austria had no choice but to bow to international pressure for restitution.
Since 1996, when Austria auctioned off unclaimed looted artworks for the benefit of the Jewish community, the nation’s museums have handed back about 13,000 objects, according to the overview presented at last year’s Prague conference. However, some settlements came only after years of litigation in foreign courts.
Russia enacted legislation in 1998 and in 2000 purporting to allow claims. But it “has returned nothing to Holocaust victims since the passage of the law, although it sold some family items to the Rothschild Family,” said Charles A. Goldstein, counsel of the Commission for Art Recovery.
“Compare this to Austria, which is making a systematic search of its state collections and is returning stolen items when they are discovered even without request,” he said.
The Hungarian government had a terse response Friday to the suit filed three days earlier in U.S. District Court by the Herzog heirs after more than two decades of legal maneuvering – simply noting that a high Hungarian court had ruled in its favor on ownership.
But critics argue that court’s decision was flawed and reflects concerted government efforts to hold on to art of questionable provenance.
“The Hungarian experience may be described as a total and concerted effort by successive governments to keep the looted art in their museums,” Agnes Peresztegi, European director of the Commission for Art Recovery, said in a 2008 report.
In contrast, she noted, the government is “very active in making claims for art displaced from Hungary during World War II” but loses interest in pursuing such claims when asked to return repatriated art to the heirs of Jewish owners.
“Hungary has never faced its past and has never bothered to establish a historical commission to examine Hungary’s war time activities,” she argued, alluding to the atrocities committed by Hungary’s Nazi henchmen before the Soviets marched in.
Associated Press writers Karel Janicek in Prague and Mark Lavie and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
admin August 2nd, 2010
Painting stolen by Nazi now on display in New York
By the CNN Wire Staff
July 29, 2010 — Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
(CNN) — A demur redhead in a modest black dress is making a brief appearance in New York, before finally returning home to Austria.
“Portrait of Wally,” painted by Austrian Egon Schiele in 1912, was put on display Thursday at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. On August 18, it will go back to the Leopold Museum in Vienna, after a settlement last week ended the painting’s legal upheaval.
It’s a story 70 years old, reaching across the Atlantic and involving Nazi theft, art-world deceit and a Jewish woman’s deep affection for a favorite portrait.
Sometime before 1925, Austrian Jewish art collector and gallery owner Lea Bondi Jaray acquired “Portrait of Wally,” according to a release from the U.S. attorney’s office in New York.
In 1938, German troops occupied Austria. Nazi laws prohibited Jews from owning businesses, which made Bondi Jaray’s gallery subject to confiscation. Instead, she sold the gallery to a Nazi art collector.
The collector saw “Wally” in Bondi Jaray’s apartment and demanded it. She resisted, saying “Wally” was part of her private collection. Bondi Jaray’s husband reminded her the Nazi could prevent their escape, so she relented and the Nazi art collector took the painting.
After World War II, the Nazi collector was arrested. “Wally” and other artwork went to the Austrian government, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in New York. “Wally” found her way to the government-owned Austrian National Gallery known as The Belvedere.
Lea Bondi Jaray didn’t forget about “Wally.” In 1953, an Austrian art collector, Rudolf Leopold, visited Bondi Jaray in London. She asked him to recover the painting on her behalf. Instead, Leopold swapped one of his own Schiele paintings for “Wally.” Bondi Jaray tried to recover “Wally,” but died in 1969 before she could do so.
Leopold’s art collection became the Leopold Museum in Austria in 1994. The museum loaned part of its Schiele collection, including “Wally,” to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1997.
Two years later, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said, a magistrate judge issued a warrant to seize “Wally,” based on probable cause the painting was stolen property brought into the U.S. illegally.
“Wally” has been in the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly the U.S. Customs Service) since 1999.
The U.S. attorney’s office in New York filed a civil complaint saying “Wally” should be forfeited and returned to its rightful owner — Bondi Jaray’s estate. The Leopold Museum argued the Nazi didn’t steal the painting in the first place and Rudolf Leopold didn’t know it was stolen property when he traded one of his Schieles for it.
In 2009, a U.S. District judge ruled “Wally” was Bondi Jaray’s personal property, the Nazi had stolen it and it remained stolen property. The only unresolved issue was whether the museum could prove its founder Leopold, who died June 29 at 85, didn’t know it was stolen.
A trial was scheduled for this week to decide that. But on July 20, the U.S. government, Bondi Jaray’s estate and the Leopold Museum reached a settlement agreement. The museum in Austria is to pay the estate $19 million in exchange for “Wally.”
“More than 70 years after ‘Portrait of Wally’ was stolen, (this) settlement marks another small step toward justice for victims of property crimes during World War II,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “Lea Bondi Jaray and her family were steadfast in their long battle…. Their determination provides hope for others who lost precious property and art to Nazi theft.” Thursday, Bharara told CNN Bondi Jaray’s diligence kept the case going. “She wrote letters to her attorneys and colleagues describing the theft and her conversations with Dr. Leopold. Those very letters became critical evidence when the case was finally litigated here in New York.”
After August 18, “Wally” will go home to Austria to reside at the Leopold Museum.
In the meantime, at the direction of Bondi Jaray’s estate, it will be on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
About 50 members of Bondi Jaray’s family attended the unveiling of “Wally” Thursday. The attorney for Bondi Jaray’s estate says it was an emotional day for them. “The painting had a close attachment to her, therefore the painting became very closely attached to the family,” said Howard Spiegler. “I think they tie the painting in with their feelings about her and feel that this essentially is the end of the quest that she started.”
Her grand-nephew, Andrew Bondi, thanked those who played a part in recovering the painting. “When I brought my father a copy of agent seizure warrant… he just beamed and shook his head in disbelief, that this was happening, that justice was finally being done. For me, that moving moment, exemplifies what the restitution effort is all about.”
The estate chose the Museum of Jewish Heritage to host the painting because the family wanted “a setting that would memorialize the suffering of so many in the Holocaust and the resilience and resolve of those who escaped and/or survived,” according to a press release from the museum.
Its director, David Marwell said, “Wally can teach us about a fundamental injustice, how the power and attraction of art and simple greed led to an egregious theft of nearly unimaginable proportions and worse. And she can teach us about justice, even justice that comes after more than seven decades, how fidelity to basic values, how bold action, how patience and persistence and perseverance and no small measure of hard work can help to get some things right.”
CNN’s Cassie Spodak and Lisa McClure contributed to this report.
admin July 30th, 2010
admin July 26th, 2010
Mystery of family’s art unraveled: Stolen in World War II
Heinrich Buerkel artworks stolen in WWII era are returned to Germany.
By Mark Washburn
Posted: Sunday, Jul. 25, 2010
In 1945, about 50 pieces of art from the Museum of Pirmasens were stolen.
Among the items returned to the city this month are three paintings by Heinrich Buerkel, “Herd of Cattle,” “From the Countryside,” and an untitled work.
Oil portraits by other artists depicting children of Ludwig IX, who founded Pirmasens in 1790, also were returned along with a painting of a young girl and an angel signed by Alois Broch. In all, they are estimated to be worth about $200,000.
A cache of art stolen at the end of World War II is finally back where it belongs, after a 65-year odyssey featuring a transatlantic smuggling, a secret hideaway and – in the end – a little browsing on the Internet.
It was last possessed by Beth Ann McFadden of Cornelius who, while growing up in New Jersey, heard about the war booty her great uncle kept hidden behind a false wall panel in his basement.
“It was kind of a family secret,” says McFadden, 45, a legal assistant. “We weren’t supposed to talk about it.”
After her great uncle, Harry Gursky, died in 1988, the 11 paintings – limp canvases removed from their frames – went to McFadden’s parents. Her mother kept them in a closet, unaware of whether they had any value.
And after they died, the artwork went to McFadden’s sister in West Windsor, N.J., who kept them in her basement. In November, when the sister was moving, the paintings came to McFadden.
She didn’t know whether they were important. A family friend, Barry Pedersen, and his partner in their Mooresville architectural millwork company, Gary Dunne, both of Davidson, offered to help find out.
After hours of research on the Internet, they found the paintings were important – they had been missing more than six decades, and the FBI and Customs had been searching for them for years.
An odyssey of art
Heinrich Buerkel (1802-1869) is not a well-known painter, but his 19th-century landscapes are popular in his hometown of Pirmasens, Germany, near the French border.
There, since 1925, the Museum of Pirmasens displayed a collection of his works. But in 1942, during the Allied bombing of the manufacturing city, the museum’s paintings – 18 by Buerkel and oil portraits by other artists – were hidden in the basement of a school that served as a bomb shelter.
On March 22, 1945, U.S. troops occupied Pirmasens and on Sept. 19 the museum announced that “about 50 paintings which had been stored in the air-raid shelter at Husterhoh School during the war have been lost during the arrival of the American troops.”
Among the U.S. Army occupiers: Sgt. Harry Gursky.
Resurface at auction
For 60 years, the paintings were missing. Then on Oct. 25, 2005, an auction company in Pennsylvania advertised three of them.
Spotting the sale on the Internet, an archivist at the Museum of Pirmasens notified German authorities, who contacted the FBI, who seized the works.
They were told by the woman who was trying to sell them that they were given to her by Gursky’s wife, Florence, years ago. That case is still under investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s office says.
Finding a way home
On McFadden’s behalf, Dunne sent an e-mail to Pirmasens’ mayor, Bernard Matheis, a few days before Christmas asking whether the city would like the paintings back.
“I didn’t know until now that Santa Claus had a main office in Davidson, N.C., USA,” Matheis wrote back.
Dunne also contacted federal authorities, who put him in touch with Bonnie Goldblatt, a New York-based agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Goldblatt had been working on the case for three years. Goldblatt asked that McFadden call her, but McFadden – a little worried that she might be in trouble – didn’t call right away.
“Maybe I’ve seen too many ‘Judge Judy’s,” she says.
They did connect, and in February, McFadden flew to New York to turn over the canvases.
A happy outcome
This month, McFadden, Pedersen and Dunne were invited back to New York. At a ceremony at the Goethe-Institut in Manhattan with federal authorities and German Consul General Horst Freitag, the paintings were formally returned.
“It is thanks to your integrity, foresight, your firm belief in justice and your joint effort with ICE that these paintings could be traced and now returned,” Freitag told McFadden.
“There are still dozens of these paintings missing from Pirmasens,” said James Hayes, ICE special agent in charge. “We hope that this example will prompt others who might have ‘mystery’ paintings in the family to bring them to ICE.”
Looting in the war
As the Nazis moved across Europe in World War II, they systematically looted an estimated 20 percent of the continent’s artwork. German dictator Adolf Hitler chose the best for himself and other high-ranking officials amassed collections as well – Hermann Göring took 594 pieces for himself in Paris alone.
But art thefts by U.S. servicemen were all but unknown. Charles Mo, director of fine arts for the Mint Museum, says he’s never heard of a single case, while the plunder of the Nazis was well documented.
Experts estimate the recovered Buerkel paintings are worth $50,000 each. Others in the cache are valued at $4,000 to $10,000.
McFadden says she never had any interest in making money off the works.
“They didn’t belong to me and were of sentimental value to someone else. I wouldn’t want anyone else to take my stuff.”
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/07/25/1581501/mystery-of-familys-art-unraveled.html#ixzz0uiWb5obx
admin July 25th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Dutch gov’t returns stolen antiquities to Iraq
Friday, 10 July 2009 08:24
Germany, July 10, (Pal Telegraph) – The Dutch government has turned over dozens of antiquities stolen from Iraq to Baghdad’s ambassador.
The 69 pieces include cylindrical stone seals older than 2000 B.C. and a terra-cotta relief depicting a bearded man praying. Dutch Education, Culture and Science Minister Ronald Plasterk said Thursday the ancient artifacts were surrendered by Dutch traders after police informed them they were stolen.
He has called on other countries to do more to halt the illicit trade in stolen antiquities.
U.S. customs authorities and Interpol had alerted Dutch authorities that the items were being sold here.
Diederik Meijer of the Dutch National Museum for Antiquities declined to put a value on the artifacts, saying it could boost the trade.
admin July 14th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Nazi Controversy Stirred as Liebermann Heirs Slam Auction Sale
By Catherine Hickley – Jul 1, 2010
German artist Max Liebermann. The Hamburg auction house Hauswedell & Nolte sold a Liebermann sketch that was in the artist’s possession at his death in 1935, dismissing his heirs’ warnings that the drawing was probably seized by the Nazis or sold under duress. Source: Max Liebermann Stiftung via Bloomberg
The Hamburg auction house Hauswedell & Nolte sold a Max Liebermann sketch that was in the artist’s possession at his death, after receiving a claim that the drawing was probably seized by the Nazis or sold under duress.
The drawing, a study for a painting of boys bathing in the sea, fetched 4,500 euros ($5,575) at auction, according to Hauswedell & Nolte’s website. Georg Castell of WilmerHale in Berlin, the lawyer representing Liebermann’s two great- granddaughters, had written to the auction house two days earlier saying that his clients were opposed to the sale before the provenance of the sketch was examined.
“I would never have imagined that a German auction house would act like that in such a case,” Castell said in his Berlin office. “I find it scandalous.”
The drawing is one of several thousand works on paper from Liebermann’s estate that Castell and the heirs are trying to trace. An impressionist painter, Liebermann was the honorary president of the Prussian Academy of Art before being forced to resign under Nazi rule because of his Jewish ancestry in 1933. He died in 1935, leaving everything to his widow.
That year, together with her husband’s biographer, Martha Liebermann stamped all the unsigned paintings, pastels and drawings by the artist in her possession, the Liebermann collection heirs say. Under postwar laws crafted by the western allies, and later West German laws, any art sales by Jews after 1935 are presumed to be made under duress, and can be subject to restitution claims.
Martha was later forced to give up her homes and sold artworks to pay the rent and buy food and medicine. She ended her own life with an overdose in 1943 to avoid being deported to a concentration camp. Whatever art remained in her apartment after her death was seized by the Nazis.
Ernst Nolte, the owner of Hauswedell & Nolte, described the letter from the heirs’ lawyer as “completely groundless.” He said in a telephone interview that the consignor of the drawing proved her legal ownership before the sale. The only provenance given in the catalog for the sale was “a Hamburg private collection.”
“There is no proof that the drawing was looted,” Nolte said. “One can assume lots of things, but it can’t be proven. We think we acted absolutely correctly.”
Under German law, the statute of limitations for property claims expires after 30 years. The theft victim has no legal recourse beyond that period, particularly if the purchaser can prove that he bought the items in good faith.
“Legally speaking, there is not much we can do — the statutes have expired,” Castell said. “Private people cannot be held to national accords like the Washington Principles.”
In 1998, 44 countries including Germany endorsed the non- binding Washington Principles, pledging to restitute or reach a settlement with the heirs regarding art in public collections that was looted by the Nazis or sold under duress, and to carry out provenance research in museums.
In a follow-up declaration agreed in the Czech Republic last year, 46 states said that they would encourage private institutions and individuals to apply those principles as well.
There have been other incidents of German auction houses selling disputed art works. The Cologne company Kunsthaus Lempertz sold an Italian baroque painting to New York dealer Richard Feigen in 2000. After it emerged last year that the painting had been auctioned — also by Lempertz — in a Nazi- forced sale in 1937, Feigen returned it to the heirs of Max Stern, a Jewish gallery owner who fled prewar Germany.
Castell informed Hauswedell & Nolte that he is registering the sketch with Lost Art, a German government database of stolen and missing art. The auction house’s lawyers, Heuking Kuehn Lueer Wojtek of Hamburg, responded to say they had informed the drawing’s new owner that he can file suit for damages resulting from the listing. The auction house didn’t name either the consignor or the buyer.
(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.)
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at email@example.com.
admin July 2nd, 2010
Posted In: restitution
admin June 18th, 2010
Salander Auction Raises $2.1 Million, Third of Lots Goes Unsold
By Philip Boroff
June 10 (Bloomberg) — A painting of a kneeling Jesus attributed to the studio of El Greco sold for $386,500 at Christie’s International in New York, the top lot in a $2.1 million auction of European art and sculpture recovered from the gallery of disgraced art dealer Lawrence B. Salander.
The total yesterday fell short of the $2.3 million presale low estimate. More than a third of the art didn’t sell, which dealers and art consultants attributed as much to Salander’s habit of buying in bulk — indiscriminately, some say — as to European economic turbulence.
Salander, 61, who pleaded guilty in March to a $120 million art fraud, is free on $1 million bail. He could be sentenced to as much as 18 years in prison, Justice Michael Obus said then. He’s due to appear in court next on June 23. He didn’t attend the auction.
He had paid $262,400 for the studio of El Greco artwork, “The Agony in the Garden,” in 2005 at a Christie’s New York sale. It sold yesterday to a middle-aged man in a cerulean blue jacket.
“I don’t like to appear in the news,” the unidentified man said in accented English as he left the saleroom.
Proceeds from the 128 lots will benefit creditors of Salander-O’Reilly Galleries LLC, which declared bankruptcy in November 2007. As part of a settlement in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Donald Schupak, who formed an investment partnership with Salander to buy Renaissance art, received proceeds from many of the lots. He attended the sale, as did a half-dozen lawyers involved in the case, among the collectors and dealers.
Salander’s collapse followed a multiyear buying spree of homes, carpets, books and art, particularly from the Renaissance. He has said in court papers that the art was undervalued relative to contemporary works. Prosecutors said that Salander was trying to corner the market.
Yesterday a painting of the goddess Ceres with two naked nymphs went for $146,500. It was attributed to the studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens. An oil panel by Rubens himself, “An Allegory of Fortitude,” of Samson carrying two pillars, sold for $182,500.
As for the 47 unsold lots, “we regroup and figure out the best means of disposing of them,” said Alan M. Jacobs, the trustee of the liquidation.
Last month, Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, sold about $470,000 of furniture, carpets and decorative arts from the dealer’s six-story Upper East Side townhouse, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
And last week, the townhouse sold for “just under” $14 million, said Lydia Rosengarten of Leslie J. Garfield & Co. The asking price was $14.25 million. Rosengarten declined to disclose the buyer. Proceeds went to First Republic Bank, a creditor.
Salander paid $154,000 per month to rent the 21,000-square- foot limestone mansion that housed Salander-O’Reilly, a block from the Frick Collection. Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding LLC has it listed for sale with Sotheby’s International Realty for $59 million. The broker, Serena Boardman, didn’t return a call for comment.
Salander has been working at Phoenix Art, a gallery in Millbrook, New York, near the 66-acre property where he lived with his family. The home is listed for $4.5 million, as part of his personal-bankruptcy case. On June 23, a sale is scheduled at the property to benefit creditors of that case. Featured are a mower, snowmobile, gym equipment and other items he owned in happier times.
To contact the reporter on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pbor…@bloomberg.net.
Last Updated: June 10, 2010 00:01 EDT
admin June 11th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Austria Urges Return of Altar Panels to Jewish Heir (Update1)
June 10, 2010, 11:54 AM EDT
More From Businessweek
By Catherine Hickley
June 10 (Bloomberg) — An Austrian government council recommended that two 16th-century Dutch altar panels, two paintings and two statuettes seized by the Nazis should be returned to the heir of their Jewish prewar owner.
The council today recommended that the items be restituted from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna to Thomas Selldorff, 82, the Boston-based grandson of Richard Neumann, a textiles industrialist who was forced to flee Austria in 1938. Selldorff said he wants to keep the art in the family.
“We are very happy, it’s a wonderful thing,” Selldorff said by telephone from the U.S. “It is great to have a tangible thing to pass on from my grandfather, and to be able to do it while I am still alive. We are enormously grateful.”
Austria set up the Commission for Provenance Research in 1998 after 44 countries agreed on non-binding principles to return Nazi-seized art in public collections to the prewar owners or their heirs. The commission passes its findings to a council, which makes recommendations to the culture minister.
The council in 2005 rejected Selldorff’s claim, saying it couldn’t restitute works for which compensation had already been paid. Yet an amendment easing restitutions, passed last year, paved the way for today’s decision.
The altar panels, by the Dutch painter Maerten van Heemskerck, are the most valuable of the objects to be returned. A Heemskerck painting sold for $360,000 at Sotheby’s in London in July 2008. The two paintings are by Giovanni Battista Pittoni and Alessandro Magnasco, and the two religious statuettes by Alessandro Algardi.
A passionate collector, Neumann amassed more than 200 art works in his Vienna villa. He escaped Austria after the Nazi annexation via Switzerland to Paris. When the Nazis occupied France, he fled by foot through the Pyrenees to Spain. From there he reached Cuba, where he settled, and participated in the 1954 founding of an art museum in Havana. He later moved to New York to be with his daughter, and died there in 1961, age 82.
Neumann’s artworks were seized by the Nazis, then released shortly afterward to allow a sale to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Neumann’s daughter sold the altar panels in 1938. The money went into a frozen account to pay Neumann’s “emigration tax.”
After the war, Neumann sought restitution of the artworks. The Kunsthistorisches Museum insisted that he refund their purchase price, regardless of the fact that he never got the money. Neumann was prepared to pay as the only means of retrieving his property. Yet a ban on the export of cultural goods prevented him from taking possession of the altarpieces.
In 1952, Neumann, who was then a textiles worker in Cuba, lodged another complaint against the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The museum offered compensation: Instead of the altarpieces, paintings and statuettes, Neumann could have other, less valuable works and $3,000.
“The compulsory repayment of a fictional purchase price, together with the export ban, forced Neumann to accept compensation that was disadvantageous to him just to get back a part of what was taken from him,” said Sophie Lillie, a Vienna-based art historian who researched the provenance of the artworks. “Austria used his extreme desperation to its own economic advantage.”
Under the terms of today’s decision, Selldorff will have to return the original compensation paid to his grandfather.
At today’s meeting, the commission rejected a restitution claim for Gustav Klimt’s “Mohnwiese” (Poppy Field, 1907). The painting belonged to Fritz Zuckerkandl, the son of a famous anatomist and his wife, Berta Zuckerkandl, a well-known society hostess and intellectual who counted Klimt and Auguste Rodin among her friends.
Zuckerkandl emigrated to Paris in 1935, and his family followed in 1938, after Hitler’s annexation of Austria. Their possessions were seized by the Nazis and sold.
After the war, “Mohnwiese” was restituted to the family, though was also subject to an export ban. Zuckerkandl sold the painting to Rudolf Leopold, the founder of the Leopold Museum. Leopold swapped it in 1957 for two works by Egon Schiele with the Oesterreichische Galerie, now the Belvedere, where “Mohnwiese” hangs today.
The commission said that under the new law, it can only recommend the restitution of works that were returned but subject to the export ban in cases where there was a clear intention to keep the art in public collections. That was not the case with “Mohnwiese,” it said.
–Editor: Mark Beech, Jim Ruane.
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chick…@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbe…@bloomberg.net.
admin June 10th, 2010
Press release: Wednesday 9 June 2010
UK appoints Envoy for post-Holocaust Issues
Foreign Secretary William Hague has appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the United Kingdom’s first Envoy for post-Holocaust Issues.
Sir Andrew, a former UK Ambassador to Israel, will be responsible for leading the Government’s efforts on a range of important post-Holocaust work. This includes driving forward implementation of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets, resolving outstanding issues related to property and art restitution, and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of discussions on the vital work of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research and of the International Tracing Service.
The Foreign Secretary said:
“The UK is determined to preserve the memory of the Holocaust for future generations. Sir Andrew’s appointment will ensure that we continue to support those working to right past wrongs and remain at the forefront of international discussions, to make sure that the lessons of this terrible period in our history are never forgotten.
“As a former UK Ambassador to Israel and chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association, Sir Andrew’s wealth of experience means he is ideally placed to tackle the challenges this post presents.”
Sir Andrew Burns said:
“I am deeply honoured by the confidence the Government places in me to develop and drive forward policy on such a wide range of post-Holocaust issues.
The UK already plays a leading and active role in promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research, in tackling and resolving outstanding issues and claims and in raising public awareness of the continuing relevance of the lessons and legacy of that terrible moment in European history. I shall make it an early priority to talk to a broad range of experts and others with an interest in or knowledge of post-Holocaust subjects, in Whitehall and Parliament and in the wider community, in order to understand as well as I can the scope and substance of the issues involved and can develop a properly co-ordinated and strategic way forward in international discussions.”
Anne Webber, Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, and Michael Newman, Director of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said:
“We have worked closely with the Government to achieve this historic post and very much look forward to working with Sir Andrew at this crucial time with several post-Holocaust issues requiring urgent attention and decisive leadership.”
Sir Andrew Burns’ CV:
Sir Andrew Burns is currently Chair of the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) and Chairman of the Council of Royal Holloway, University of London. He also chairs the Executive Committee of the Anglo-Israel Association.
2005 to 2006: BBC International Governor
2000 to 2003: British High Commissioner to Canada
1997 to 2000: British Consul-General to the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau
1995 to 1997: Deputy Under Secretary of State, responsible for the Government’s bilateral and trade relations outside Europe
1992 to 1995: British Ambassador to Israel
1990 to 1992: Under-Secretary for Asia
1988 to 1990: Press Secretary to the Foreign Secretary and Head of the FCO News Department
1983 to 1986: Information Counsellor and Head of British Information Services in the United States
Notes to editors:
1. As part of its ongoing work on post-Holocaust issues, the UK government provides funding to the Holocaust Educational Trust “Lessons from Auschwitz project”. This aim of this project is to achieve the participation of two students (aged 16-18) from every school/sixth form college in England in visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Since 2006, almost 6,000 students and over 1,000 teachers have taken part.
2. In June 2009 the Czech Government hosted the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets to assess progress on Holocaust Era Assets restitution since the 1997 London Nazi Gold Conference and the 1998 Washington Conference. Issues covered included looted art, Judaica, property, social welfare for survivors and Holocaust remembrance and research. Forty-six countries attended. The key outcome of the Conference was the Terezin Declaration, a political and non-legally binding document that set out measures and principles for advancing the various restitution issues.
3. The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) was initiated in 1998 by Swedish Prime Minister Persson, President Clinton and Prime Minster Tony Blair to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance, and research both nationally and internationally. When the Stockholm Declaration on the Holocaust was adopted in 2000 it became the Charter of the Task Force. There are currently 28 member countries.
4. The main work of the (ITF) is to finance projects aimed at improving Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Examples of projects financed by the Task Force are teacher training courses, travelling exhibitions, memorials, teaching materials and academic research. Whilst the focus of the Task Force is on the Holocaust, the aim is to spread an understanding of the forces that led to it, and the lessons and relevance for today.
5. The International Tracing Service was set up towards the end of the Second World War to discover and document the fate of victims of Nazi persecution and their families and to help individuals trace family members. It holds a unique archive of records from concentration camps and from post-war displaced persons’ camps from the four Allied sectors, as well as the records of tracing enquiries made over the past 65 years. It responds to tracing requests, other humanitarian requests, and provides formal confirmation of persecution for compensation or pension purposes. It has also provided evidence for the prosecution of people alleged to have committed war crimes. It is based in Germany. The UK is one of the 11 member countries of its governing board.
All the latest news is available on our website at: www.fco.gov.uk/news.
FCO press office: 020 7008 3100
admin June 9th, 2010
Descartes letter returned to French library
(AP) – 16 hours ago
PARIS — A letter by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes that languished unnoticed in a U.S. college library for more than a century has been restored to France.
The president of Haverford College — which has had the letter since 1902 — handed over the plastic-covered missive at a ceremony Tuesday at Paris’ Institut de France.
The 1641 letter had been donated to Haverford, near Philadelphia, by the widow of an alumnus and remained in the college library, unnoticed by scholars, until a librarian posted about its existence online last fall.
The letter turned out to be one of thousands pilfered from French libraries in the 1800s. Haverford officials volunteered to return the stolen letter.
Descartes penned the words, “I think, therefore I am.”
admin June 9th, 2010
Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities
SWANSEA, Wales, June 4 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the call by an Italian prosecutor for the return of three lots due to be auctioned in New York.
The seizure of a major photographic dossier in the Geneva Freeport continues to have an impact for those seeking to sell antiquities. Three items due to be auctioned in June 2010 appear to be close to items that feature in the Polaroid images. The objects consist of a Roman marble youth, a South Italian terracotta figure of a woman, and an Apulian drinking-cup.
A spokesperson for Christie’s stressed that the auction-house’s due diligence process did not provide any indication that the objects were “problematic”. The sale of the three lots would be proceeding.
The provenance, or more accurately the collecting histories, for the three lots in question show that they surfaced via another auction-house in 1984, 1992 and 1994. The collecting histories for these pieces prior to their appearance on the London and New York markets is unclear.
A similar link was made between a Geneva Polaroid and a Roman statue that had been due to be auctioned in London in April 2010. In that case the auction-house withdrew the lot.
In 2009 three items, a Corinthian krater, an Attic pelike and an Apulian situla, were seized from Christie’s: one just before, and two after the June sale. A spokesperson for the auction-houses noted in a statement that the transparency of the auction system had allowed the objects to be identified.
Auction-houses need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches to ensure that objects do not come onto the market as a result of illicit diggings on archaeological sites. It has been suggested that dealers adopt the internationally recognized benchmark of 1970, the date for the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
In the meantime Rome prosecutor, Paolo Ferri, has made his position clear: “We want to repatriate those objects.”
admin June 7th, 2010
Library to pay for stolen Jewish books
The Austrian National Library said it would pay 135,000 euros (164,000 dollars) for thousands of books in its possession that were taken by the Nazis from Jews during World War II.
In a symbolic gesture, library director Johanna Rachinger handed over the books to the Austrian National Fund for the Victims of National Socialism at a special ceremony.
The objects, some 8,363 in all, included children’s books, scientific reference works and theological treatises dating back to the 17th century, whose owners the library had not been able to trace.
But the library has agreed to buy them back immediately at their market value, so that proceeds can go to Nazi victims who had not so far received any form of compensation, “such as Jews who arrived in Austria in the 1930s,” said the head of the fund, Hannah Lessing.
The national library decided in 2003 to return 52,403 books looted by the Nazis after the annexation of Austria in 1938 to their rightful owners.
So far it has succeeded in returning 35,217. A decision is still pending on a further 8,823 books, manuscripts, sheet music and cards, Rachinger said.
However, 8,363 objects have been classified “heirless” after researchers failed to find their previous owners.
Now it has been decided to use them to help people who had not been compensated so far.
Austria decided in the 1990s to award a gesture payment of just over 5,000 euros to Nazi victims as an acknowledgement of the injustices suffered.
admin June 5th, 2010
admin June 2nd, 2010
‘Of all that we are fighting to preserve’
BY BRUCE KAUFFMANN FOR THE TH
Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the Second World War, was not your typical soldier, as evidenced by the order he issued this week (May 26) in 1944, right before the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.
Ike’s order directed his officers to “protect and respect,” to the extent possible, any cultural monuments — paintings, artwork, sculptures, historically significant buildings, etc. — that they encountered as they marched across Western Europe toward Nazi Germany.
Ike’s order stemmed from his horror at Allied destruction of the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino during the invasion of German-occupied Italy. Allied bombers had pulverized the centuries-old monastery — built around 529 A.D. — to root out German troops, only to discover no German troops were hiding there. Eisenhower was determined not to repeat that mistake.
He was helped immeasurably by an all-volunteer outfit of former art dealers, collectors, appraisers and general art aficionados who joined a little-known U.S. Army unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section. They called themselves the Monuments Men for short.
Their job was to attach themselves to Allied army units fighting across Europe, and whenever historically significant buildings or art works were identified as being in harm’s way, they were tasked with convincing battle-hardened army commanders — whose sole objective was to defeat the Germans regardless of the cost — to spare these cultural icons, even if it meant altering their military plans and objectives.
Given the intensity of combat against a German army fighting for survival, the Monuments Men were not always successful, at which point their job was to record the destruction of these cultural treasures for later repair and reconstruction.
The Monuments Men also spent significant time tracking down famous artworks stolen by high-ranking German officers and Nazi Party members. Among the most famous of these art thieves was Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second-in-command, whose personal collection of stolen art was hidden throughout Germany.
Artists whose work was recovered by this special unit included Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Vermeer and Michelangelo.
It was dangerous and often thankless work, and many Monuments Men were killed attempting to preserve the best of Europe’s cultural identity, meaning they died as much to save great art as to save democracy.
For decades their work was unknown and unsung. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Monuments Men were honored for their mission, and those honors came not from the U.S. Army, but from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which recognized them for having “deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities.”
Ike, were he alive, would have approved. As he said of these cultural treasures, they are especially symbolic “of all that we are fighting to preserve.”
Kauffmann’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
admin May 24th, 2010
Reassembled 15th-century altarpiece to go home
St Korbinian panels by Friedrich Pacher will return to the Austrian pilgrimage church
By Martin Bailey | From issue 213, May 2010
Published online 6 May 10 (Conservation)
St Korbinian altarpiece
london. A 500-year altarpiece by Friedrich Pacher has recently been reassembled and will go back to the Alpine village for which it was commissioned. The wings were lost in the mid 19th century and have been purchased after a Nazi-era restitution case.
Dating from around 1480, the St Korbinian altarpiece has now been restored and is on temporary display in Vienna’s Belvedere gallery (until 18 July), before it returns to the pilgrimage church in Assling, in East Tyrol.
The panels were made by Tyrolean painter Friedrich Pacher. In the centre of the altarpiece is a sculpture of St Korbinian by Hans Klocker. The 3.5m-high ensemble remained on Assling’s high altar until 1660, when a baroque altarpiece was installed, and the earlier one was moved to a side wall.
Between 1850 and 1864 the double-sided wings were removed, and presumably sold off. In August 1927 its predella with scenes of the life of St Korbinian was stolen, but was recovered two months later.
It was not until 1999 that the wings were identified by German art historian Ulrich Söding. They were then on loan from the Dutch state art collection to the Stedelijk Museum in Zutphen. Further research revealed that by the early 1930s they were at St Ignatius College in Valkenburg, near Maastricht. The double-sided wings had already been separated, creating four panels, of which two had also been cut down at the top and bottom. In 1936 the wings were bought by Amsterdam dealer Jacques Goudstikker, whose collection was subject to a forced sale by the Nazis in 1940. The panels then went to Hermann Göring’s hunting lodge at Carinhall (and were returned to the Netherlands after the war).
In 2006 the Dutch government restituted the Goudstikker paintings to his heirs, who consigned most of them to Christie’s in 2007. The two pairs of wing paintings were sold as different lots, which means that they might have become separated after more than five centuries. The outer pair fetched £24,000 and the inner pair £192,000. Both were bought by the Tyrol authorities.
Conservation of the wings has proved complex. The double-sided wings had been sawn in two, and the wooden panels had then been thinned and later mounted on a chipboard support. The previous restoration, in 1963, was very poorly done, and retouched colours had aged and whitened, leaving blotches.
At the Vienna conservation studio of the Bundes denkmalamt (federal monument office) the ensemble was examined with x-rays and infrared reflectography, revealing Pacher’s underdrawing. The panels were cleaned and the damaged 1963 retouchings were removed and redone. The two which had been cut down were brought back to their original dimensions, with modern additions. The wings were then inserted into new frames, so that they can be displayed as originally intended.
admin May 6th, 2010
‘Monuments Men’ recovered art stolen by the Nazis
Author describes WWII heroics; 3 men had ties to Worcester Art Museum
Robert Edsel talks about soldiers who located and saved thousands of works of art stolen from European museums by the Nazis. (T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS)
By Kim Ring TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
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Nearly 65 years after the end of World War II, works of art stolen by the Nazis and numbering in the hundreds of thousands remain missing.
But in the years immediately after the war, 5 million items of cultural significance were returned thanks to the Monuments Men, an obscure group of museum directors, curators and others in the field of art.
They joined the military and were charged with finding missing art, usually stolen by the Nazis but sometimes stashed away for safekeeping by museum curators, and with returning it. Many times they put themselves in peril.
Some of those involved were from Massachusetts, including Lt. Cmdr. Perry Blythe Cott, Lt. Cmdr. George L. Stout and Pfc. Charles H. Sawyer, who all had ties to the Worcester Art Museum. Yesterday, members of the Stephen Salisbury Society heard of their exploits from author Robert M. Edsel.
Mr. Edsel explained that after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a telegram was sent to museums around the country notifying them of an emergency meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They would discuss plans to save culturally important items, including artwork.
The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program was soon born.
Adolf Hitler, who had hoped to become an artist or an architect, made lists of artwork he wanted displayed in the Fuhrermuseum he planned to build in his home town. He kept log books of the artwork he had stolen or bought, as well.
During yesterday’s presentation, Mr. Edsel, who wrote, “Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” showed slides depicting the discovery of artwork stashed in a copper mine.
The group also found gold, currency, and paintings by Rembrandt, da Vinci and Manet inside a salt mine. The works were returned.
At most, there were 350 Monuments Men and women from 13 countries. When other troops were leaving after the war, their work was continuing at full speed. They returned home in 1951.
Most people have never heard of the group, and it’s something that bothered Mr. Edsel. After he learned of their sacrifices, he set about making sure their story was told. He developed the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which works to find members of the group and to find missing works so they can be returned.
The foundation recently helped return to Germany the Gemaldegalerie Linz Album XIII, one of Hitler’s valued books in which he listed artwork he possessed.
It was, like many items, taken by a soldier as a souvenir. When he learned it was significant, he worked with the Monuments Men to return it.
The album is one of 31 believed kept by Hitler. Of those, 19 are believed to have survived the war and others are believed to have been destroyed, according to the Monuments Men newsletter.
Mr. Edsel said he believes we are entering a time in which some of the missing items may surface.
As soldiers from that era die and their families discover items they may have brought back from the war, he is hopeful they will contact the group and try to return the items to their rightful owners.
He said he hopes the public speaking he does, his book and the work of the remaining Monuments Men will encourage young people to have an interest in hearing the stories of the Monuments Men — and women. He said they may be encouraged to take a second look at the things their grandparents have and ask about them.
Items taken can never be sold, he explained, and as they are passed from generation to generation, their significance may be overlooked.
Those interested in learning more about the Monuments Men can visit www.monumentsmenfoundation.org.
admin May 3rd, 2010
Sweden to hand back historic Danish document
Posted on30 April 2010. Tags: culture, Denmark, document, history, jyske log, museums, Sweden
Long running bartering between library directors has led to an agreement by Sweden to return an ancient text to Denmark.
The Danish Code of Jutland, which enshrines property ownership and has been compared to the British Magna Carta, was originally signed in 1241 by King Valdemar II. It has, however, been housed in the Stockholm Royal Library for the past 300 years as part of stolen war booty.
Denmark has been unsuccessfully requesting the return of the ‘Jyske Lov’ for years, but now the director of the Royal Danish Library, Roland Kolding Nielsen, has announced he has reached an agreement with his Swedish counterpart. The topic of the return of war booty has widespread ramifications across European museums, and curators have expressed fears that a precedent for such handovers could see their collections emptied overnight. Therefore, the new agreement is likely to involve some form of exchange, with the Swedes able to swap the Jyske Lov for a culturally significant item held in Denmark.
“I’m going to talk with my Swedish colleagues and see if we have anything they might be interested in,” said Danish Culture Minister Per Stig Moller, adding that he will do everything possible to find a suitable replacement.
The Jyske Lov – referred to in Latin as the Codex Holmeinsis – provides Danes with the basic right to privately own property and protect it from raiders, reports the Copenhagen Post.
An excerpt reads, “with law shall land [i.e. the nation] be built. And if all men would keep what is theirs, and let others enjoy the same rights, there would be no need of law. […] If the land had no law, then he would have the most who could grab the most.”
admin May 1st, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Egypt on a mission to get back artifacts
April 24, 2010
SUN-TIMES STAFF, ASSOCIATED PRESS
When the King Tut exhibit opened at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2006, Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass turned the proceedings upside down, calling out Exelon CEO John Rowe for keeping a 2,600-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus in his office.
“Antiquities should be in museums, not in people’s homes,” he said. He followed up with a blistering letter to the Field urging it to remove Exelon as a sponsor of the exhibit.
Rowe sent the sarcophagus, which he bought from a dealer, to the Field on indefinite loan, ending that flare-up.
Last week, at a preview of a King Tut exhibition in New York, Hawass attacked museums that he claims have refused to return artifacts that belong in Egypt. Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, singled out several museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, which he said has a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that was stolen before the museum acquired it.
“We’re going to fight to get these unique artifacts back,” he said at the New York preview of “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.”
He gave the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back.”
A spokeswoman said the St. Louis Art Museum had shared information with him on the mask’s provenance.
Thousands of antiquities have been taken out of Egypt — some stolen, some removed by famed archeologists. Many are housed in the world’s greatest museums. Hawass seems to be on a mission to get all of them back.
A favorite foil is James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. He argues “antiquities are the cultural property of all humankind.”
Hawass says: “Cuno claims that the fight to have looted artifacts repatriated interferes with the ability of these museums to protect the objects in their collections. What Cuno does not say is that by buying and keeping looted artifacts, museums are offering a direct incentive to thieves.”
admin April 24th, 2010
Greek bronze will stay in the Getty Villa
Museum rejects Italian judge’s decision because the Fano Athlete was found outside Italian waters
By Martha Lufkin | From issue 212, April 2010
Published online 14 Apr 10 (Museums)
BOSTON. The J. Paul Getty Trust is appealing against the decision by an Italian judge that a key antiquity in the Los Angeles museum’s collection is Italian state property. The Getty owns the Greek bronze, and it will stay in the US, the museum says. The work, a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Fano Athlete, also known as the Victorious Youth, is a star object in the Getty Villa, Malibu. In February, an Italian appeals court judge, Lorena Mussoni, based in Pesaro, ordered that the work be seized and returned to Italy (The Art Newspaper, March 2010, p13). But the Getty says the work was found in the 1960s outside Italian waters, and Italy has no claim on it. The museum has asked that the confiscation order be stayed pending the appeal to Italy’s highest court.
It was not immediately clear in February how the Italian confiscation order could be enforced. Any removal of the work from the Getty would require a grant of authority by a US court in a proceeding to enforce the foreign judgment. During any such proceeding, the Getty would raise numerous objections to the Italian decision. “If the bronze was found in international waters, rather than Italian national waters, I am doubtful that any US court would recognise it as stolen,” Patty Gerstenblith, a law professor at DePaul University and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, told The Art Newspaper. “While the Italians claim that the bronze was illegally exported, illegal export does not, by itself, make the bronze stolen or otherwise illegal in the US.” She added that Italy also faces “the significant hurdle of the statute of limitations”, making it too late to sue because the country has known where the statue was for decades.
The Getty’s claim that it owns the bronze is set out in a legal memorandum dated November 2006 and addressed to the Italian ministry of culture. The Getty unequivocally owns the statue, the memo concludes, because it was not found in Italian soil or Italian territorial waters, and therefore never became Italian state property under Italy’s 1939 antiquities ownership law. It was drawn up in fishing nets 30 to 40 miles off the Italian coast, “well outside of Italian territorial waters”, which stretched only 6.9 miles from shore in 1964, when the work was discovered, the memorandum argues.
The Getty acquired the work in 1977, after Italian courts concluded that “there was no evidence that the object was found in Italian territorial waters”, the memo says, citing an unsuccessful Italian criminal trial in 1966 in which the Italians who bought the statue were acquitted of dealing in stolen property. The acquittal was based on lack of evidence that the work was found in Italian waters. In 1968, Italy’s high court affirmed the decision, and that was the law in Italy in 1977 when the Getty bought the statue, the memo says, adding that Italy’s “failure of proof is fatal”. The Getty paid almost $4m for the work.
According to Lorena Mussoni, the Italian judge, the bronze became state property because it was found in 1964 by a vessel flying the Italian flag, even though it was in international waters, and having been so found, it belongs to Italy. Her second theory is that the work, having been in Italy for a few years after being found in international waters, was exported in violation of Italian antiquities export laws.
In November 2007, a lower court in Pesaro rejected the local prosecutor’s claim for the work, saying that all fishermen involved in the original find were dead, it was too late to bring charges on any crime, and the Getty should be considered to have bought the work in good faith.
The Getty memorandum rejects Italy’s claim that, after the discovered work allegedly stayed in Italy for a short time, it was exported without a proper licence—the basis of Italy’s current claim of ownership. Instead, the memo argues, Italian, US and international law does not, and did not in the 1970s, “require the transfer of the statue to Italy” solely based on possible export violations. The memo says that in a 2006 dossier, Italy conceded that it has “no viable legal claim” to the statue. A claim now is unjustified, because Italy has been on notice for decades that the Getty had the bronze, the memo says. The ethical reasons normally invoked to justify art restitution do not apply here, the memo adds, because the work “is Greek in origin, not Italian”, and was likely to have been removed from ancient Greece by Romans before being lost at sea. Giving the statue to Italy would violate the Getty’s legal duties to protect its art for the public, the memo concludes.
In 2007, Italy and the Getty Museum reached an agreement under which the museum returned 40 antiquities to Italy. In February the Getty launched a partnership with museums and archaeologists in Sicily.
admin April 15th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
FBI Returns Paintings to Peru
ethiopianreview.com | April 11th, 2010 at 4:35 am
Today the FBI returned to the government of Peru two Colonial paintings that were recovered by the FBI Art Crime Team. FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins, Criminal Investigative Division, presented the artifacts to Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso at a ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C.
“We are pleased to be able to return these paintings to the government of Peru,” said Assistant Director Perkins. “Unfortunately, Peru suffers from depredations caused by thieves and looters and these stolen and looted objects regularly are brought into the U.S. for sale or display. This deprives the Peruvian people of their religious and cultural heritage and corrupts the legitimate market for works of art.”
In 2005, Exipion Ernesto Ortiz-Espinosa brought two paintings into the United States from Bolivia. One of the paintings, the 18th century oil on canvas known as “Doble Trinidad” or “Sagrada Familia,” depicts the Holy Family with Trinity in a style characteristic of the Cusco School of painting. It has been appraised at $26,000. The other painting, “Saint Dominic,” an 18th century oil on canvas, depicts Saint Dominic offering a wedding veil to Santa Rosa of Lima and has been valued at $38,000. The works are of the Cusco and Lima style of religious painting created to inspire devotion and hung in churches, monasteries, and convents throughout Peru during the Colonial period.
Ortiz consigned the two paintings to a gallery for sale. Suspecting the paintings were stolen when he observed they had been cut from their frames and that the appropriate legal documentation could not be produced, the dealer called the FBI. The paintings were seized in 2007 and forfeited in 2009 pursuant to the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). Under the CCPIA, the 1997 bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Peru, it is illegal to import Colonial-era religious paintings into the United States from Peru without documentation certifying that the export did not violate Peruvian law.
admin April 13th, 2010
Posted In: restitution
Restitution of Sri Lankan artifacts
Apropos my article on the above subject published in The Island mid last month, I regret that I have made an error when I referred to the King’s Crown which was stolen from the museum and melted was that of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha which was returned by the British government and the loss occurred at the National Museum, [Colombo].
Dr. P. H. D. H de Silva, who was the Director of the National Museum ,has sent a note to a common friend in Kandy after reading my article which the latter brought to my attention. I thought I would reproduce it rather than paraphrase it.
“Bandu had made a small error and that was about the Kandyan King’s Crown. What was burgled was the Crown of King Rajasimha II from the Kandy National Museum way back during Deraniyagala’s administration. They came through the roof and the Police recovered several small bars of gold and a few pieces of the Crown. During Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time, Nissanka Wijeyeratne, who was Secretary to our Ministry, arranged for a copper replica to be made and some of the gold from the recovered bars was overlaid on the replica. The rest he got me to hand over to the Central Bank. This was opened to the public by Governor-Genera William Gopallawa at the Kandy Museum which you see today.
“The Crown of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha is at the Colombo National Museum. Long ago, a lunatic had broken the glass and put the Crown on his head. He was quickly taken in by Police who arrived promptly and a dent in the Crown is the only evidence of the incident.”
I wrote that part of the story from recollections of a newspaper report which I read a long time back. I had mixed up the two events referred to by Dr. de Silva. I thank Dr. de Silva for correcting me and apologise to him for mentioning that the loss was at the Colombo National Museum which was under his able administration for a long time. I also apologise to the readers for this mix-up on my part.
Whether the incident happened in Colombo or Kandy, it does not take away from my argument that we as a nation do not seem to care much about even valuable patrimony like the Crown of one of our heroic rulers. It is unpardonable that King Rajasinha II’s Crown was spirited away in the very City where the King held Court a few centuries ago. Rajasinha II was a ruler who fought relentlessly to chase the Portuguese and the Dutch out of this country and left his indelible mark on the history of the country in many ways.
Sometime back I wrote about the pathetic state of the place where the King was cremated. I also wrote that the first century B.C. King Dutugemunu built a monument on the site of cremation of his adversary Elara and the place was honoured till the time of the early British rule on that King’s order. I may ask if today we have become a nation which forgets its heroes? What is then the point in trying to regain our artefacts which are under protective care overseas?
Not many months back, the Archaeological Museum of Kotte lost one of the few Kotte period sword sticks. The person who brought it to my attention has stated that up to now there has been no news about this loss. He laments that an article he had sent a newspaper (not The Island) has remained unpublished. He has made a sketch of the sword. He has come to the conclusion that writing articles like that seem to be considered “unpatriotic” and “traitorous” these days! I do not think so as far as one is ready to bravely expose wrongdoings and pitfalls.
Bandu de Silva
admin April 13th, 2010