News:

UK parliament closer to passing bill allowing museums to deaccession Nazi-looted art

1970
1945
The Art Newspaper 23 April 2009
By Martin Bailey

Legislation expected to be limited to 1933-1945 only

LONDON. A Private Members’ Bill is to be presented for its second reading in parliament on 15 May, to allow UK national museums to deaccession art works spoliated during the Nazi period.  

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is expected to support the bill, subject to drafting changes, which will greatly increase its chances of eventually becoming law. The DCMS originally hoped to incorporate a clause allowing deaccessioning of Nazi-era spoliation into the Heritage Protection Bill, but last December the bill was dropped, because of pressure of government business in Parliament.

The Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill is being presented by Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, north London. It would allow national museums, most of which are not normally able to deaccession art works, to restitute items that had been spoliated in 1933-45 by the Nazi regime and its sympathisers.

Currently, there is only one case outstanding where a UK national collection has been unable to deaccession after a recommendation of the official Spoliation Advisory Panel. In 2005, the panel determined that the British Library should return a 12th-century missal to Benevento Cathedral. The manuscript had been spoliated at some point between the US bombing of the Italian city in September 1943 and its purchase by British officer Captain Douglas Ash in April 1944. However, the British Library is legally unable to deaccession the missal.

The government’s major concern about Mr Dismore’s Private Members’ Bill is that amendments may be put to extend its scope. In particular, it will inevitably be seized upon by parliamentarians who are campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens. Similar moves might be made by those calling for the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, the Rosetta Stone to Egypt or the Lewis Chessmen to Scotland. The DCMS is therefore expected to press for a clear wording that would preclude deaccessioning being extended beyond the 1933-45 period.

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