France to loan Nazi-looted art to Israel

The Art Newspaper 13 April 2004
Lucian Harris

Fourteen Old Master and Impressionist paintings stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners in France and now in French museums have been offered to Israel in what could be the first in a series of French loans of Nazi-looted art. A further list containing hundreds of other works of art confiscated by the Nazis and available for long-term loan to Israel is reportedly being prepared by the French National Museum Authority (RMN).

An unresolved hurdle has delayed the deal for several years. This is the French insistence that legislation be passed by the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, protecting paintings on loan from ownership claims made in Israel.

French officials met with their Israeli counterparts last month in an effort to negotiate a solution to the problem. They say that this could now be imminent.

A representative of the French Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Art Newspaper “both sides have a strong desire to find a resolution. It is likely that the law will soon be passed.”

The Art Newspaper has seen a leaked list of the 14 paintings (right), the value of which is collectively estimated at tens of millions of dollars. It includes works by Monet, Sisley, and Henri Fantin-Latour among others, some from the collection of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.

The paintings were selected by Israel from a list of 2,000 works of art recovered from the Nazis and retained by France. Of the 100,000 works estimated to have been confiscated by the Nazis in France, 61,233 were rescued and subsequently returned to their original owners or sold at auction. In 1949 2,000 works which remained with the French State were designated as the Musée Nationaux Recuperation and “provisionally” entrusted to the management of the Direction des Musées de France. Distributed around French museums, these works were largely forgotten until 1997, when a secret report about them prepared by the French State Ombudsman two years earlier was leaked to the press.

A furore in the French Jewish community followed and Prime Minister Alain Juppé then instructed the Chairman of the Economic and Social Council, Jean Mattéoli, to assess the issue of plundered property.

The scandal was heightened by the revelation that as well as being held in museums across France many of the works were hanging in private government offices and apartments.

The idea to send art on loan to Israel was first suggested by Mr Mattéoli in 2000.

The paintings under discussion

1) Hippolyte Belange, “Scene galante”, (Louvre, Paris);

2) Peter Binoit, “Still-life with dish, fruit and glasses”, (Louvre);

3)Henri Fantin-Latour, “Flowers and fruit”, (Musée d’Orsay, Paris);

4) Pierre Gobert, “Woman in costume holding a mask”, (Musée Beaux-Arts, Rennes);

5) Stanislas Lepine, “Riverbanks”, (Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint-Etienne);

6) Claude Monet, “Field with poppies”, (Musée Beaux-Arts, Rouen);

7)Claude Monet, “Still-life with pheasant”, (Musée Beaux-Arts, Rouen);

8) Pierre-August Renoir, “Still-life with apples”, (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Histoire naturelle, Valence);

9) Phillipe Rousseau, “Still-life with oysters and a glass of wine”, (Musée Jules Cherét, Nice);

10) Alfred Sisley “The avenue of poplars in the outskirts of Moret-sur-Loing”, (Musée Jean Cherét, Nice);

11) Alfred Sisley, “The road to Petits-Près à By: stormy weather”, (Musée Jules Cherét, Nice);

12) Floris van Schooten, “Still-life with ham”, (Louvre);

13) Vandelen, “Interior of a palace”, (Musée Denys-Puech, Rodez);

14) Maethias Withoos, “Still-life”, (Musée de l’Ain).
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