Painting looted by Nazis found in Tate Gallery

Guardian 30 July 1999
By Fiachra Gibbons

The first piece of looted Jewish art to turn up in a British museum has allegedly been discovered at the Tate Gallery in London. The claim, from the family of a Jewish banker murdered by the Nazis, has caught the government on the hop, with no mechanism in place for the return of stolen treasures. It comes as every museum in the country is conducting a trawl through its archives for suspect works.

The View of Hampton Court Palace by the 18th-century Dutch artist Jan Griffier is part of the Tate's permanent collection and is still on show. It is worth around £160,000 but has a special value for the gallery because Griffier once lived close by, on Millbank.

The Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, said he hoped to resolve the case within weeks. "On the face of it, the family seem to have a very strong claim. Because this is the first case of its type, we will have to proceed carefully."

Alan Howarth, the arts minister, hinted that action would be swift. Only last week, Gerta Silberberg, 85, from Leicester, claimed a Pissarro worth more than £5m from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. A few weeks earlier, the National Gallery in Berlin agreed to return to her a Van Gogh drawing worth £3.3m.

The murdered banker's unnamed family are said to be happy for the Griffier to remain at the Tate if they are compensated. Stephen Ward, of the Holocaust Education Trust, said the painting belonged to the owner of a Dusseldorf private bank, who was shot by the Nazis in 1937.

Mr Serota said the Tate had already audited two-thirds of its modern works without so far finding anything questionable. "The Friends of the Tate bought the painting from a London dealer who had acquired it at auction in southern Germany in 1955."

Lord Janner, who chairs the Holocaust Education Trust, recently met Chris Smith, the culture secretary, to work out guidelines through which galleries might identify appropriated works. The National Gallery is checking 120 objects which have gaps in their provenance, while a smaller number held by the British Museum are also being investigated. The National Galleries of Scotland is researching a group of paintings with similar inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, the department of trade and industry is about to compensate the first of the Holocaust survivors whose assets were frozen by the wartime authorities. According to today's Jewish Chronicle, the first 10 claims, amounting to about £130,000, have been approved by Stephen Byers, the trade secretary. Nearly 190 applications are still outstanding.
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