National Gallery returns Nazi-looted painting to French family

CBC 18 August 2006

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has returned a painting by French artist Edouard Vuillard to a family in France after discovering it was taken by the Nazis.

The painting, Le Salon de Madame Aron, an oil on paper, was bought in 1956 from the Galerie Dubourg in Paris.

The National Gallery has no estimate on what the painting is worth.

It has been returned to descendants of Alfred Lindon, a French businessman of Jewish descent who died in 1948 and of his son Jacques, an art dealer.

The gallery first offered the painting to the family six years ago, said Nadia Seraiocco, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery.

Jacques Lindon, who survived the war, twice refused the painting, saying it had never belonged to him or to his family. He died in 2003.

"He didn't remember the painting and thought he was doing the right thing by turning down a work he thought he had no claim to," said National Gallery curator David Franklin.

That same year, after further provenance research, the National Gallery received proof from the French government that Jacques Lindon's father, Alfred, had owned the painting in 1940.

German wartime documents found by French archivists confirmed that the Vuillard had in fact been stolen from the bank vault where the Lindons stashed their art collection during the German occupation.

The family began legal proceedings and came to an agreement on the return of the painting. There are a group of descendants involved, Seraiocco said.

The Lindon family continue to be prominent in the arts in France.

In 1998, the Canadian Museum Directors Association agreed on guidelines governing the unlawful appropriation of objects during the Nazi era.

The National Gallery began full-scale provenance work on its collection the same year and had a website up by 2000 documenting dozens of works and their whereabouts during the Second World War era.

However, Michael Pantazzi, the National Gallery curator who does the provenance work, sounded the alarm on the Vuillard painting in 1997 after seeing it mentioned in a French document listing art stolen during the war.

Pantazzi worked with a network of other curators, groups that document war spoils and government groups to document what had happened to the painting, according to Franklin.

It's hard work

It takes painstaking research to document the provenance of paintings after 50 years, when memories are fading and documents have been destroyed, Franklin said.

The museum director's guidelines came at a "turning point," when greater awareness of the issue of Nazi-looted paintings was being raised, Franklin said.

"I guess it's taken a generation to come to this point," he said.

Although there are dozens of paintings listed on the National Gallery website because their whereabouts during the war cannot be determined, this is the first time a painting has been returned.

Vuillard, who lived 1868-1940, was a prominent Parisian artist known for his intimate paintings of domestic scenes. He was part of an artistic group called the Nabis, a word from Hebrew that means "prophet."

Le Salon de Madame Aron is a lush interior in which two women and a man in formal clothes are shown sitting together.
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