National Gallery of Denmark has Nazi-looted works, scholar says

The Art Newspaper 18 December 2013
By Hanne Cecilie Gulstad

Two paintings by Nolde and one by Matisse were confiscated during the Second World War as “degenerate” art

The National Gallery of Denmark owns three works of art that were confiscated by the Nazis in the late 1930s: two paintings by Emil Nolde and one by Henri Matisse. According to the Danish art expert Bjørn Wandall, these belong to German museums.

Wandall’s accusation comes amid the ongoing international debate over the works that were found in a Munich apartment in November. He says that the art world should not follow a 1938 law made under the Nazi regime that allowed “degenerate” art to be seized by the state.

“It is important to open up a discussion. We should not use this regime and their illegal acts to accept this,” Wandall says.

The two works by Nolde—Figures and Dahlias, 1919, from the Kunsthalle Mannheim and The Last Supper, 1909, from the Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe in Halle—as well as Matisse’s Reclining Nude I, 1907, from the Museum Folkwang, Essen were confiscated in Germany between 1937 and 1939 and later sold at auction in Switzerland at a low price.

The chief curator and senior researcher at the National Gallery of Denmark, Kasper Monrad, says that that none of the German museums made a claim to the works they lost during the Second World War, and that the confiscations have not been legally questioned in either country or internationally.

Today, it would be endless and impractical to try and give back these pieces to German museums, Monrad says. In that case, he adds, one would have to ask: what about all the private and public owners that have bought pieces in good faith—should they be compensated? And who would cover this cost?
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