Burrell told to return painting Nazis forced family to sell

The Herald 24 November 2004
Phil Miller

A PAINTING in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow should be returned to its original owners, a Jewish family who were forced to sell it under the Nazi regime, a government report will say today.

The recommendation, made by an influential panel of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, will create a dilemma for Glasgow City Council, which has already acknowledged the factual validity and moral weight of the family's claim for reparation, but now appears to have had its compromise solution to the case rejected.

The painting, La Pate de Jambon, a still life attributed to Pierre Chardin, bought by Sir William Burrell in 1936, is governed by the strict rules that apply to the collection, which was gifted to the city in 1944.

The council believed monetary compensation for the cost of the painting, paid by the government, was therefore the best solution to the request.

It was hoped that the Spoliation Advisory Panel of the DCMS, which has been considering the case for months, would advise the same.

Instead, the panel's report, to be published today, will claim that the only just solution to the request is the full restitution of the painting to the family.

The report, as well as confounding the council's hopes for a swift and just settlement, will now also raise new questions over the sanctity of the rules governing the Burrell Collection, one the greatest art collections in Britain.

It is understood the DCMS report attaches no moral blame to Glasgow for owning the painting, but believes the Jewish family have provided a sufficiently strong case that a cash repayment is not suitable.

However, as the painting, worth about £7000, is part of the collection, Glasgow City Council could not give it away without changing or breaking the strict rules governing the collection's integrity. These prohibit the "sale, donation or exchange" of any object in the collection. The rules also specify that the collection cannot "part with" any of its contents.

However, the DCMS report is believed to claim that restitution of an artwork may fall outside any of these definitions.

The panel's report is likely to lengthen the process of determining the future of the picture, which is currently in storage. It was begun three years ago, but now may be extended by months as the council takes legal advice on how to proceed.

The council's cultural and leisure services committee has already examined the claim and has accepted its validity as well as a convincing moral case for reparation of some kind.

However, it referred the case to the DCMS because it maintains the council cannot break up the collection, and believed paying a financial compensation was outside its powers.

It is considered unlikely that the council could ignore or break the Burrell Collection's rules, leaving the claim from the family, who live in Germany and the US, at an impasse.

The DCMS report makes clear the family were forced to sell the work, and others, to meet a bogus tax demand from the Nazi authorities.

Burrell, a shipping magnate and extensive collector of art, bought the work from Julius Bohler, a Munich-based dealer, although it has never been suggested he knew of its origins.

To date, there has been only one other spoliation claim in the UK – against a work in the Tate Gallery in London.

Its owner had been shot by the Nazis. His heirs received an ex-gratia payment of £125,000 instead of return of the work.
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