A report on the University of Michigan's Museum of Art provenance research was publicised on 26 October 2007 through the media, under the headlines 'University of Michigan museum finds no art looted by Nazis' and 'U-M: No art believed stolen by Nazis'. The reports are reproduced below.
'University of Michigan museum finds no art looted by Nazis'
10/26/2007, 1:07 p.m. EDT
The Associated Press
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan Museum of Art concluded a three-year investigation that found no evidence any of its artwork had been looted by Nazis during World War II, an official said.
Museum director James Steward said the facility spent between $100,000 and $200,000 to investigate more than 5,000 pieces of artwork — part of an effort to comply with guidelines of the American Association of Museums and the university.
"We didn't find any information that makes us believe that any of our works could have passed through the hands of the Nazis," Steward told The Ann Arbor News for a story published Friday.
The German military confiscated hundreds of thousands of paintings and sculptures during the 1930s and 1940s from European museums and Jewish families. Much of it was returned after the war, but many looted objects unknowingly made their way into museums.
The museum hired a specialist whose research included finding out how the museum acquired the work; contacting the dealers, donors or their heirs; and consulting archives, genealogies and other materials.
The museum learned through the process that the painting "The Young Girl Knitting" by French artist Camille Pissarro had been owned by one of the artist's family members — boosting its historic value.
The project also allowed the museum to more accurately determine when some of its artwork was created. Investigators narrowed the origin of English artist John Hoppner's portrait, "The Digby Children," to a 10-year period rather than a 32-year period.
The national museum association in 2003 created a Web portal to help heirs identify potentially stolen work. The Michigan museum has listed 73 paintings and 41 sculptures with the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal because of gaps in their wartime ownership histories.
Earlier this year, the heirs of a German-Jewish woman dropped claims to ownership of a pair of paintings housed in art museums in Detroit and in Toledo, Ohio.
The heirs of Martha Nathan filed motions to dismiss their appeals challenging the ownership of Vincent van Gogh's "Les Becheurs," which is owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Paul Gauguin's "Street Scene in Tahiti," housed at the Toledo Museum of Art.
In 2004, descendants of Nathan's siblings and in-laws approached the two museums claiming, in part, that the works had been sold under duress. After researching the claims, the museums determined that Nathan, a member of a notable banking family who emigrated from Germany to France in 1937 to escape Nazi persecution, sold the paintings voluntarily.
'U-M: No art believed stolen by Nazis'
Friday, October 26, 2007
BY DAVE GERSHMAN
The Ann Arbor News
In light of nationwide concerns about American museums possessing artwork that was looted from its rightful owners by the Nazis, the University of Michigan Museum of Art spent three years and more than $100,000 to investigate its collections.
Now that the results of the project are in there's good news: None of its paintings or sculptures are believed to have been stolen.
The additional benefit of the research is that, in some cases, the museum was able to more closely delineate when the artwork was created, or it learned more about how the artwork was commissioned or passed down over the years. That information will be useful to historians and scholars.
James Steward, director of UMMA, made public the results of the Nazi-era provenance project at a lecture and film screening at the Michigan Theater Thursday night.
"We didn't find any information that makes us believe that any of our works could have passed through the hands of the Nazis,'' Steward said in an interview this week.
UMMA began its Nazi-era provenance project in 2004, and it spent between $100,000 and $200,000 on the effort, Steward said. More than 5,000 pieces of artwork were investigated to some degree.
Because UMMA is a university-based museum, it has a special obligation to teach by upholding the highest ethical standards, Steward said. "We needed to be really aggressive about this topic,'' he said.
From 1933 through 1945, the Nazis confiscated and illegally appropriated vast amounts of art, much of it from Jewish families. Most is believed to remain in Europe today, although sales of stolen artwork may have brought some of the plunder to American museums.
In the past, museums didn't always seek out detailed ownership histories from donors or dealers, or that information wasn't readily available, Steward said. But beginning in the 1990s, museums across the country have become more sensitive to the issue of potentially looted artwork, often hiring specialists to track the history of their art.
UMMA hired Bay Warren, a specialist who pursued the artworks' histories like a detective. Her research was conducted on a case-by-case basis, but it often followed the same pattern: finding out how the museum acquired the work, contacting the dealers or donors or their heirs, seeking information with historical societies, and consulting archives, genealogies and catalogue materials.
"It's a lot of investigative reporting,'' she said.
In several cases, the project allowed UMMA to more definitively date the creation of an artwork. One example is "The Digby Children,'' a portrait of two children by the English artist John Hoppner. Because of the investigation, the museum was able to narrow the painting's origin to a 10-year period, from 1795 to 1804, rather than the previous 32-year period. The museum discovered the birthdates of the children, and drew conclusions based on their appearances.
In another case, the painting "The Young Girl Knitting,'' by the French impressionist Camille Pissarro, was found to have been owned for a time by one of his family members, a significant detail which increases its historic value.
In 2003, the American Association of Museums created an Internet portal to help heirs identify potentially stolen work.
UMMA has listed 73 paintings and 41 sculptures with the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (www.nepip.org) because they had gaps in their wartime ownership histories, though the listing doesn't mean the objects were tainted. UMMA has not received any or claims, or even inquiries, regarding those works, Steward said.
Reporter Dave Gershman can be reached at 734-994-6818 or firstname.lastname@example.org