Fort Worth museum plans to return looted painting

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 6 June 2006
Gaile Robinson

The Kimbell Art Museum announced Monday that it will return its only painting by J.M.W. Turner to the heirs of its one-time owners after determining that the painting had been illegally seized by French pro-Nazi officials during World War II.

Glaucus and Scylla, a magnificent 1841 circular painting on wood that has long been a highlight of the Kimbell's permanent collection, was purchased in 1902 by Jewish art collectors John and Anna Jaffe, British citizens who lived in Nice, France. After Anna's death, in 1942, the painting was among 60 items confiscated by the pro-Nazi Vichy government in Nice. It was sold in 1943 at an auction of "Jewish property." The Kimbell purchased it in the mid-'60s from a gallery in New York.

The confiscation of Nazi-seized treasures has made headlines in recent years, but according to the Art Loss Register, the world's largest private international database of lost and stolen art, only 21 pieces of significant art have been returned to the heirs of victims since art museums began actively addressing restitution, about 15 years ago. Most of those works have been discovered in Europe, and to this date no Texas museum has publicly made a return. In 1997, the Association of Art Museum Directors published guidelines on the identification and restitution of works to their original owners so that claimants can more easily pursue lost art.

In the case of the Turner painting, the Kimbell was contacted in September by Alain Monteagle, a teacher living in France who is an heir of the Jaffes. He was among a group of 13 heirs searching for the family's stolen property. After several months of discussions between the Kimbell and the Jaffe heirs, it was agreed that the Turner would be returned.

"We had to ask for the relevant documentation, and they had a lot," said Kimbell Director Timothy Potts.

"Our lawyers would say there were some gaps, but we were convinced that it had come from a forced sale.

"I do feel good about the way we handled it," Potts said. "All Holocaust claims need to be dealt with responsibly."

The Kimbell acquired Glaucus and Scylla from New York's Newhouse Galleries in 1966. It was among the first pieces purchased by Richard Brown, the museum's director in the years leading up to its opening, in 1972. When Brown purchased the piece, there was no indication in its provenance that it had ever been confiscated or sold in a forced auction. The gallery maintained that from 1902 until after 1950, a French collector owned the painting.

The reconstructed history of the Turner now has it disappearing after the 1943 auction and resurfacing in 1956, when Emile Leitz of Paris sold it to a London dealer. It was bought by the Howard Young Galleries in New York in 1957 and presumably sold to a Mrs. Chamberlain, who owned it until 1966, when it came into the possession of the Newhouse. The gallery, no longer in business, sold it to the Kimbell for an undisclosed sum.

Although the painting's current value is unknown, a Turner oil painting is a significant holding for any museum. One sold at auction for $32 million in April, and Potts said a Turner watercolor sold in London recently for 6 million pounds, or about $12 million. It would stretch even the Kimbell's robust acquisition budget to buy back the Turner, the loss of which is not covered by insurance.

Art experts anticipate that Glaucus and Scylla will be in a major art auction within months. Would the Kimbell be interested?

"If it comes to auction, we would not speculate on whether we are or not," Potts said, aware that indicating any interest would affect the market.

The painting will remain on exhibit at the Kimbell until June 25.
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