Nazi Looting, the Monuments Men, and Art Restitution Today, Symposium, University of Vermont, 20 April 2015

Events and Conferences

With Jonathan Petropoulus, Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College; Victoria Reed, Curator of Provenance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Sharon Flescher, Executive Director, International Foundation for Art Research

Organized by Profs. Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio and Anthony Grudin of the UVM Department of Art and Art History, this symposium brings together internationally renowned scholars and legal experts on World War II art looting and ongoing recovery and restitution issues.


 "Five Uncomfortable and Difficult Topics Relating to the Restitution of Nazi Looted Art”
Prof. Jonathan Petropoulos,
John V. Croul Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College

Recent books and film treatments of the Allies’ restitution efforts have tended toward the triumphalist.  The recovery, safeguarding, and return of looted works has become a story of good overcoming evil.  This paper seeks to complicate that narrative. The Monuments officers worked in challenging circumstances and sometimes fell short of certain ideals.  The Allies’ restitution policies evolved amidst difficult political realities. The role of art dealers in this complex of issues is also ripe for reassessment.  And museum officials outside of Germany, both before and after 1945, behaved in ways that raise ethical questions. This paper argues for a more nuanced and balanced appraisal of those involved in the response to Nazi art looting—one that counters hagiographical tendencies in both the scholarly realm and in popular culture.

"From Art Historian to Art Sleuth: Conducting Nazi-era Provenance Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston"
Dr. Victoria Reed, Sadler Curator for Provenance Research, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Using two case studies from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I will discuss the process of investigating Nazi-era provenance, that is, the history of ownership of works of art in the collection between 1933 and 1945. Although I am trained as an art historian, the study of World War II-era art loss is interdisciplinary, and the research process necessitates going beyond traditional art history resources on a regular basis. I will talk about the kinds of questions a provenance researcher has to address, how to find creative solutions to these questions, and what happens once the research is done and a restitution claim is resolved.

Nazi-Era Looting and Restitution: The Saga Continues  
Dr. Sharon Flescher, Executive Director, International Foundation for Art Research, New York

Wartime art looting isn’t new; it goes back thousands of years. But the magnitude of Nazi art looting before and during WWII eclipsed anything known before. Its enormity is magnified by the connection to the Nazi ideology of racial purification and genocide. While a heroic attempt was made at the end of the War to preserve objects and restitute them to their rightful owners, the process was incomplete and at times flawed. More recently, renewed effort has been made to right this historical wrong. In this brief talk, I will provide an overview of the subject and discuss some of the often complex and nuanced legal, ethical and art historical issues concerning art restitution. My perspective will be that of the head of a nonprofit educational and research organization – the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) – that has focused on these issues (among others) since the 1970s, via its publications, public programs, conferences, provenance research, and online and hard copy educational resources.  

Co-sponsored by UVM's Department of Art and Art History, Holocaust Studies, Humanities Center, and the Fleming Museum of Art.

The symposium takes place in Billings Library on the University of Vermont campus, Burlington, Vermont, from 4.30-6.30pm..

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