The Burrell Collection, one of the nation’s showpiece cultural centres, has become embroiled in an international dispute over a rare 16th-century tapestry sold under duress during the Third Reich.
As revealed in Scotland on Sunday yesterday, the Glasgow City Council-owned collection has been served with a formal spoliation claim from the relatives of Emma Budge, a noted Jewish philanthropist whose prized artefacts were sold under duress in Berlin between 27-29 September, 1937.
For decades, her family have used lawyers and art experts to scour museums in an attempt to rebuild the collection.
However, it is understood the claim against the Burrell was established thanks to an internet search.
It comes as Lothar Fremy, the Berlin-based lawyer acting for the Budge heirs, told The Scotsman he is preparing at least one other spoliation claim against another unnamed British art institution.
Mr Fremy said: “I am working with some art researchers and they picked [the tapestry] out. Don’t ask me exactly how they did, but sometimes in the modern world you can just Google certain things.
“The Budge Collection is very well documented, we have descriptions for every single piece, and for most of the items we even have photos, so this really helps a lot.”
Glasgow Life, the arms-length organisation that manages the Burrell Collection, is assisting the Spoliation Advisory Panel, an expert group set up by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.
Glasgow City Council said it will “comply with the relevant law” should the heirs’ claim be upheld by the panel.
The tapestry, entitled The Visitation, first belonged to an unnamed private collection in Frankfurt, and was later acquired by the Hamburg-based Budge Collection. However, it was sold in September 1937 in a so-called “Jew auction” to Paul Graupe.
Sir William Burrell took ownership of it on or before 8 August the following year from art collector John Hunt. It is not known when or how Mr Hunt came into possession of it, but he has been the subject of allegations linking him with Nazi art dealers. Information surrounding the tapestry’s uncertain provenance has been lodged with the Cultural Property Advice website, but it remains unclear when Glasgow Life first became aware of the item’s past.
A spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “As with all UK museums services, We have proactively listed any object which may have unsure provenance on the government’s official website.”