Museums Disagree with Nazi-Era Art Survey

1945 25 July 2006
Verena Dobnik (AP)

Despite a survey showing that many U.S. museums have not yet researched claims of stolen Nazi-era art, two museum organizations say that most looted art has been identified.

"We don't think there are a lot more," Mimi Gaudieri, executive director of the American Association of Museum Directors, said Tuesday. "Most of the museums have been working diligently on researching these works with a gap in provenance and, in most cases, have been able to fill the gaps."

The works include a painting of Mary and Jesus by Lucas Cranach the Elder from the North Carolina Museum of Art, a Matisse painting from the Seattle Art Museum and a 17th-century Dutch painting from the Denver Art Museum.

The Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany reported Tuesday that 118 out of 332 museums, or 35 percent, have not reported on their progress to determine whether their collections contain works that might have been stolen during the Holocaust. Among museums that did meet a July 10 deadline, 33 percent provided incomplete information, the organization said.

Gaudieri, whose association represents 170 museum directors, said that some of the museums that did not respond do not own collections dating back to World War II or before, and others are too small to devote a significant part of their budget to researching Nazi-era art.

The New York-based Claims Conference was established after World War II to help Holocaust survivors and their relatives reclaim property. In 1998, the Claims Conference asked U.S. museums to research "covered objects," defined as artwork created before 1946 that changed ownership after the Nazis came to power, possibly in Europe. The museum directors' group issued guidelines in 1998, urging museums to dedicate resources and personnel to find such art.

The Claims Conference, with the U.S. government and others, provided initial funding for the creation of the American Association of Museums' Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a search engine covering tens of thousands of museum objects that might have been looted.

The Internet Portal also strongly disagrees with the Claims Conference survey, saying that the survey was too broad and some museums have no works that could have been stolen by Nazis because their collections contain art created after 1946.

Of the museums surveyed, 20 reported that they faced a claim against them, from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Art Institute of Chicago to Washington's National Gallery of Art.

The survey, conducted in cooperation with the World Jewish Restitution Organization, found that only a third of the museums had a separate budget for researching provenance (the history of an artwork's ownership), only a tenth employed a full-time researcher and at least a third said they did not conduct such research.

Besides art in museum collections, an unknown number of Nazi-looted works may still be privately owned, said Gaudieri and Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. They both said that other works are in the hands of foreign museums and owners.
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