Art stolen by Nazis shown for first time

Daily Telegraph 18 February 2008
By Henry Samuel in Paris 

Some 53 masterpieces looted by the Nazis in the Second World War - kept by France but most of whose original owners were never found - have gone on display in Jerusalem for the first time.

Art stolen by Nazis shown for first time
The works are all listed by France’s collection of recovered art works body

Matisse’s 1898 Paysage, le mur rose (Landscape, the pink wall) - found among the belongings of an SS officer who hanged himself in 1948 - is among the works.

The painting is one of a handful that may have found an owner - a Jewish family from Germany have put in a claim for it. But the vast majority, including works by Cézanne, Delacroix, Ingres, Manet, Monet and Ernst are “orphaned".

The exhibition in Jerusalem’s Israel museum, entitled “Looking for Owners", also charts French efforts over the last decade to trace their history of possession and to identify rightful ownership.

The works are all listed by France’s collection of recovered art works body, MNR.

One tableau by Gustave Courbet’s 1858 Baigneuses (Bathers) was sold to Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister in the Third Reich, by an unscrupulous Parisian art dealer.

The painting is conserved by Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.

Very little is known about the origins of most of the works: only 10 per cent have been proven to have been siezed from their Jewish owners, while the story behind the rest has not been clearly established.

"The majority of the works exhibited have mysterious pasts", curator Isabelle Le Masne told Le Figaro.

France would only agree to shipping them to Israel once its parliament had voted a law promising not to confiscate any once they passed customs.

But French culture minister, Christine Albanel, insisted France’s aim was to hand them back: “These works are available to be restored (to their rightful owners)", she told Libération newspaper.

While this was “complex and demanding", she said that the French state had handed over at least 30 major works in the past ten years, including a Picasso and a Cézanne.

"France has nothing to hide", she said.
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