Minister to study claims that museum has looted Nazi art

The Irish Times 9 February 2004

The Minister for Arts, Mr O'Donoghue, is to examine claims by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre that parts of the Hunt Museum collection in Limerick may have been looted by the Nazis, writes Arthur Beesley, Political Reporter

Mr O'Donoghue said last night that he had not seen the letter to the President, Mrs McAleese, in which the centre called for an independent inquiry into the collection amassed by the late John Hunt and his late wife, Gertrude.

"We'll look at the situation with an open mind. We'll comment then," he said.

A 1998 report in the form of an essay commissioned by the museum board suggested that Mr John Hunt once acquired a rare 14th-century miniature gold triptych "which had been looted from a bank vault in the second World War" in exchange for a suite of 18th-century furniture. The report by Ms Judith Hill, a Limerick-based art historian, was never published. There was no further investigation.

The museum board is to meet this week to discuss the Wiesenthal Centre's allegation that the Hunts had "intimate business relationships with notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis".

The directors are expected to discuss hiring a professional archivist to carry out a detailed study of the museum archive. The question of developing a deeper understanding of the collection's provenance is expected to arise.

The museum chairman, Mr George Stacpoole, who rejects the claims by the Wiesenthal Centre, said the board would make a statement after the meeting, which is likely to take place in the first half of the week.

Mr Stacpoole refused to comment on Ms Hill's report, which said that John and Gertrude Hunt "fitted seamlessly" into the post- second World War art market which was coloured by "wide-scale Nazi thefts".

Ms Hill said yesterday that the collection should be fully investigated. "However, until anything is proved against specific items in the collection, I think it is important that the museum is given full support."

The museum at Limerick's Custom House receives €250,000 per year from Mr O'Donoghue's Department and part of the €3.81 million restoration fee for the building was paid by the State.

The Government granted €761,000 in tax relief in 1999 for a donation to the museum from the Hunts' adoptive children, Mr John Hunt jnr and Ms Trudi Hunt, who have rejected the Wiesenthal Centre allegations.
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