French Senator Pushes Museums to Probe Their Collections for Nazi-Looted Art

Artinfo 6 February 2013

MAINE-ET-LOIRE — A recent article in Der Spiegel urged Germany to do some real soul-searching — as well as museum-searching — over the fate of artwork looted by the Nazis that has never been returned to its rightful heirs. Now, a French senator is demanding that museums in her country to do the same, and she’s even backing up the argument with evidence from her own research.

French senator Corinne Bouchoux has led an investigative committee on the issue of Nazi-looted artwork in France and issued a report asking the museum world to “show a bit more effort” in researching the provenance of certain artworks still held in public collections. According to Bouchoux, of the approximately 100,000 artworks looted by the Nazis from Jewish families in France and Belgium, there are some 2,000 still being held in French museums that were designated “national museums of recovery.” This special status allowed the museums to hold the works, but they did not become the property of the state, and, if identified, can be reclaimed by their rightful owners.

After painstaking field research (Bouchoux wrote her doctoral thesis, which has just been published as a book, on looted art in France), the senator has suggested nine proposals to enable restitution of these remaining artworks. The report reminds museum directors that 44 countries, including France, signed the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998 and committed themselves to identify and inventory looted works. It urges museums to “clarify the history of the artworks” and “to establish a complete list of archives related to looted artworks...and make it accessible online.” Another concrete suggestion is to “ask interns at the Institut National du Patrimoine (National Patrimony Institute) and universities to contribute to the provenance research.” This approach is described as practical and proactive and not costly.

Bouchoux’s efforts coincide with a current exhibition at the Shoah Memorial in Paris. “The Looting of the Jews: A State Policy (1940-44),” which runs through September 29, 2013, presents a look at the looting of all kinds of real estate and movable goods, including art objects, belonging to Jews in France.
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