This is a report from the Spoliation Advisory Panel of their consideration of two claims by Mrs Bertha L Gutmann of Caldwell, New Jersey, against the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in respect of pieces of porcelain in their collections. Mrs Gutmann made her claim as the sole heir of her uncle Heinrich Rothberger (1868-1953), from whom she asserted the Gestapo seized the porcelain in Vienna in 1938. The report is available here. All previous reports of the Panel are available here.
The Panel’s conclusion was to recommend to the Secretary of State that, in the case of the British Museum (which is unable to deaccession objects from its collection), the Government should make an ex gratia payment to the claimant and the Museum should acknowledge the full circumstances of the acquisition of the item (as described in the Report) and that, in the case of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the item claimed should be restituted to the claimant. The Secretary of State accepted the Panel’s recommendations as did both museums concerned.
In its press release, titled "Two pieces of fine porcelain currently housed in two museums in Britain were looted during the Nazi period, an Independent Panel ruled today' the British government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport stated:
"A monteith or glass cooler at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge will be returned to the claimant, the sole surviving heir of Heinrich Rothberger. An ex-gratia payment of £18,000 will be made to the same claimant for a Viennese dish on display at the British Museum.
The Spoliation Advisory Panel concluded that there was firm evidence showing that both pieces were seized by the Gestapo in Vienna in 1938, having formerly been part of the Rothberger collection.
The ruling has been endorsed by the Government and accepted by the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum. Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said:
"It is of the utmost importance that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War are resolved, and that proper amends are made to those who lost works of art at the hands of the Nazis.
“I am grateful to Sir David Hirst, to the members of the Spoliation Advisory Panel and the museums concerned. Although the claimant has said they are happy with the outcome, this case illustrates the paradox in the present system where historic legislation prevents a consistent approach from all museums in responding to claims. This is something that the Government will want to seriously consider going forward.”
Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director of the British Museum, said:
"The British Museum welcomes the finding of the Spoliation Advisory Panel. The Museum has been very proactive in this case, initiating contact with Mr Rothberger's heir after our provenance research suggested the probability that the object had been in the Rothberger collection. The British Museum and Mr Rothberger's heir jointly submitted the case to the panel.'
The Fitzwilliam Museum Syndicate said:
“The Syndicate of The Fitzwilliam Museum approves the restitution of the monteith, acknowledges the valuable role of the Spoliation Advisory Panel in resolving such matters and, in accordance with the principles of the international museum community, is pleased that this fine example of Sèvres ware will be returned to its rightful owner.”
Notes to Editors
1. The claimant is the same for both pieces.
2. The Panel's terms of reference and report findings are available online.
3. The British Museum object is a Viennese porcelain plate decorated with stylized flowers and foliage made around 1725-30. It was donated to the Museum by William King in 1939, soon after a forced sale of the collection of Heinrich Rothberger, of Vienna, in 1938. It is available to view by appointment in the BM's Ceramic Study Centre.
4. The British Museum is unable to return the dish due to Section 3 of the British Museum Act 1963 requiring the Trustees not to dispose of objects vested in them as part of their collections.
5. The then Arts Minister Alan Howarth announced the setting up of a Panel to help resolve claims on art looted during the Nazi era on 17 February 2000 (DCMS News Release 35\2000) and the full membership of the Panel on 13 April (DCMS News Release 84\2000).
6. The Declaration of Principles agreed at the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets of December 1998 states, among the other principles, that:
Contact details provided were as below:
Sally Aldous, DCMS Press Office: +44 (0)20 7211 6266
Hannah Boulton, British Museum Press Office: +44 (0)20 7323 8522 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fiona Brown, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Press Office: +44 (0)1223 332941
DCMS Out of hours telephone pager no: +44 (0)7699 751153
DCMS Public Enquiries: +44 (0)20 7211 6200