Hitler Album could shed light on missing looted art
A newly discovered catalogue of artworks stolen by Nazis compiled for Adolf Hitler could help unravel the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of lost materpieces seized during the Second World War.
By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent
Published: 9:00PM BST 15 Aug 2009
Two more albums, marked ‘6’ and ‘8’, were recently uncovered by Robert Edsel, an author and art historian based in Texas
As they marched through Europe, Adolf Hitler’s Nazis pillaged the world’s finest art collections. Thousands of art works were stolen for the Führer’s personal enjoyment, many of which are still missing.
Now, a newly discovered document could unravel the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of lost masterpieces.
The “Hitler Album” contains details of art works stolen by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), an organisation established by the Nazis in 1940 to confiscate works of art from territories under occupation.
The leather-bound book includes lists and photographs of 78 paintings by prominent artists including the French masters Nicolas de Largillière, Antoine Watteau and Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose works sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The fate of many of the works, which were stolen from France during the occupation, is still unknown.
It is thought that some may have been destroyed during the Second World War and others salvaged by Allied troops and retained as keepsakes.
But the emergence of the album, which was discovered in Texas and is being held at Sotheby’s in London, could enable some paintings thought to be missing to be located and returned to their rightful owners.
Lucian Simmons, the head of Sotheby’s Restitution Department, said the album was “a very important and valuable find”.
“A number of looted art works were not given back after the war and it is certainly possible that some of the items in this album are outstanding,” he said.
“Its discovery brings back lost information which enables us to piece together the jigsaw of works that are missing.”
Allen Weinstein, the former Archivist of the United States, described the album’s discovery as “one of the most significant finds” related to the Nazi looting of art works since the Nuremberg Trials.
He said: “It is exciting to know that original documents shedding light on this important aspect of World War Two are still being located, especially so because of the hundreds of thousands of cultural items stolen from victims of Hitler and the Nazis that are still missing.”
The finest artworks stolen from Europe’s collections were photographed and compiled into albums from which Hitler selected works to display in the Führermuseum, his private art gallery in his home town of Linz, Austria, which was under construction when the War ended.
Until recently, there were believed to be only 39 such albums, all unearthed at the castle of Neuschwanstein in southern Bavaria in May 1945 by the Monuments Men, a group of artists, curators and museum directors who helped the Allies locate, and where possible return, works looted by the Nazis to their owners.
These albums were used as evidence at the Nuremberg Trials and later stored in the National Archives in Washington.
But two more albums, marked “6” and “8”, were recently uncovered by Robert Edsel, an author and art historian based in Texas.
Mr Edsel was contacted by the nephew of an American soldier who had discovered the albums in May 1945 at the Berghof, Hitler’s residence in the Bavarian Alps, close to where the other 39 were found.
Unaware of their importance, he brought them back to America, where they remained in his attic for more than 50 years until they were acquired by Mr Edsel.
He has donated Album 8 to the National Archives in America and has brought Album 6 to London this week, ahead of the publication of his book, Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History on Thursday (Aug 20).
He said: “This Hitler Album and the one I have donated were in the hands of the Führer and we know, on occasion, he would peruse through them at his leisure when he was deciding which iconic works of art he wished to place in the Führermuseum.
“There’s no doubt that there are people around the world who are unaware that their works of art hanging on the walls at home may have a Nazi provenance.
“Hopefully, this album might prompt some to realise that their paintings have this historical importance and may belong elsewhere.”
The initials R and W which regularly appear next to the inventory numbers in the album’s index show that many of the paintings were stolen from the Rothschilds and Wildensteins, prominent Jewish families at the time of the occupation of France.
Under the orders of Hermann Göring, they were targeted by the ERR because of their valuable art collections.
One painting in the album is listed as “R437, Largillière, Bildinis einer dame”. Largillière’s “Portrait of a Lady” was the 437th work of art stolen from the Rothschilds.
Confiscated by the Nazis in 1940, the painting was recovered in 1945 by James Rorimer, a prominent member of the Monuments Men.
It is thought that the painting was returned to the Rothschild family in 1945, and records show that the painting was sold at auction in 1978.