Prove art is Nazi loot: gallery

The Australian 22 August 2006
Rick Wallace

THE National Gallery of Victoria has challenged the heirs of a Jewish retail magnate - who claim one of its paintings is Nazi loot, and are demanding its return - to prove it.

As revealed by The Australian yesterday, the grandson of Max Emden has laid claim to the gallery's Gerard ter Borch painting Lady with a Fan, along with several other valuable works in galleries throughout the world that he says belong to his family.

But NGV director Gerard Vaughan has told the grandson, Juan Carlos Emden, that more evidence is needed to determine if the work by the Dutch master was looted by the Nazis.

"Any further leads you could give us might enable us to mutually uncover exactly what happened to this painting," Dr Vaughan writes to Mr Emden in a recent letter seen by The Australian. "Naturally, we are legally unable to return the painting to your family without documentary evidence of its seizure by the Nazis."

The gallery has not received an official demand for the work, but Mr Emden, who lives in Chile, has made it clear he believes the work is his family's and he wants it back.

He said he was determined to recover the priceless art his grandfather was forced to surrender to the Nazis, and had engaged specialist lawyer Markus Stoetzel in Germany and other counsel in the US.

He said the family was assembling the proof needed for the repatriation of the works. "The research is only two years old after Markus found out about the existence of our family in Chile," he said.

Emden's collection included works by Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir, which the family believes were also plundered in World War II by the Nazis, who stole more than one fifth of the world's European art.

Mr Emden said his grandfather's collection was stolen - along with vast property and business interests - after he fled from Germany to Switzerland to avoid Nazi persecution.

The ter Borch work was purchased by the NGV in 1945 from the Wildenstein dealership, which has been accused of trading in stolen art with the Nazis by several sources including The New York Times.

Wildenstein, now based in the US, denies the allegations.

Experts contacted by The Australian put the ter Borch painting's worth at up to $1million, but the gallery said yesterday it is worth only $100,000, even though the artist's work has sold for up to $6.5 million.
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