Museum Security Network

Exhibit “To whom do these canvases belong? French policy on seeking the provenance, custodianship and restitution of art works looted during World War II”

The exhibit “To whom do these canvases belong? French policy on seeking the provenance, custodianship and restitution of art works looted during World War II” will be held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem from February 19 to June 4, and from June 24 to September 28 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.

Launched at the behest of Foreign and European Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner and by Culture and Communication Minister Christine Albanel, this exhibit chronicles the French government’s actions to return to their legitimate owners art works and objects looted in France by the German occupiers during WWII. It aims to inform the public, particularly younger generations, about Nazi looting during WWII, its condemnation by the Allies beginning in 1943, massive restitution operations undertaken at the end of the conflict, and new individual restitution measures made possible in the last 10 years. The 53 works in this exhibit are part of the “Musées Nationaux Récupération” (MNR) comprising the remainder of art works and objects of French origin that were recovered by the Allies in Germany after 1945; because their legitimate owners were not found, they were entrusted in the early 1950s to the directors of Musées de France, part of the Culture and Communications Ministry (about 2,000 of the 60,000 were recovered). The exhibit is in direct line with the conclusions of the study mission on the spoliation of Jews in France, known as the Mattéoli Mission. Those conclusions notably recommend that in order to bear witness to the looting, a few significant works selected by common agreement should be exhibited at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, with a notice concerning their origin and the reasons for their presence. Research carried out by the directors of the Musées de France under the auspices of the Mattéoli Mission has established that some 10 percent of the looted works came from Jewish families, although their original owners could not be determined. The origin of the remaining 90 percent is well known, but those works correspond essentially to purchases made during the Occupation by German museums and collectors on the French art market, where many works were available that had been sold under duress. They were returned as part of a policy to recover works from France that had been acquired by the German occupiers. The works on view illustrate the state of our current knowledge about this complex, painful history. A list of the 53 works exhibited at the museum in Jerusalem will be published on the website of the Israeli Justice Ministry accompanied by photographs and notices of provenance, in order to permit any person with rights to those works to come forward and assert them. This project was developed and concluded with the full agreement and support of the Israeli authorities, the Museum of Israel, and its government and parliament. Any requests for restitution must be addressed to the head of the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs along with the documentation required to identify ownership of the piece.

A complete, illustrated MNR database was put online in November 1996 by the Musées de France management on the Ministry of Culture and Communication website ( In 2004, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux [an umbrella organization of French museums] also published some of the works in a catalogue of 1,000 old paintings. An illustrated catalogue accompanying this exhibit will be published in French and English.

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