Ashmolean and V&A in Nazi loot inquiry

Museums Journal 1 April 2014
By Gareth Harris

Fragment from Beaching a Boat, Brighton 1824, by John Constable

Spoliation advisory panel considering claims

Nazi-era spoliation claims have been made against the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London over various Meissen porcelain pieces in their collections. Both museums are subsequently cooperating with the government’s spoliation advisory panel.

A spokeswoman for the V&A said: “Three Meissen figures held in the V&A collection are being considered by the spoliation advisory panel in response to an official claim.” The V&A is following all due procedures and will act in accordance with the panel's findings, she added.

“The Ashmolean recognises its moral duties with respect to works of art that may have been looted or sold under duress, especially by Jewish families, during the period of Nazi control of parts of Europe between 1933 and 1945,” said a spokesman for the Ashmolean. “The museum acts in accordance with professional and legal guidelines, especially the statement of principles issued by the National Museums Directors’ Council in 1998.”

Neither museum would comment on press reports that the porcelain works are believed to have belonged to Emma Budge, a German collector who died in Hamburg in 1937. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees the panel, also declined to comment.

The move follows the announcement that Tate is to restitute a painting by Constable, which was looted from a Hungarian collector during the Second World War.

The work, Beaching a Boat, Brighton, 1824, is due to be returned to the family of the original owner after the spoliation advisory panel said that the claimants “have a strong moral claim for the restitution of the painting to their ownership”.

The panel’s report does not name the collector but describes him as “a well-known Hungarian artist and connoisseur, whose family had amassed considerable wealth through banking and industrial activities in the nineteenth century”. The Art Newspaper identifies him as the Budapest-based Baron Ferenc Hatvany who died in 1958.

The collector purchased the painting at auction in Paris in 1908. After Hungary was bombed by Allied forces in 1942, he deposited several works in bank vaults in Budapest.

The panel concluded that the work “was taken in the course of antisemitic persecution of the collector and his family by the German occupying forces either from one of his homes or from a bank vault where he had deposited it”.

The painting was donated to the Tate in 1986 by Mrs PM Rainsford. She acquired the work from the Broadway Art Gallery in Worcestershire in 1962. All parties appear to have been acting in good faith.

“It would not have been difficult [for Tate to] have made enquiries of the Hungarian government, who had included the painting on its official list of looted art from the late 1940s,” said the panel.

Tate said in a statement that it endorses the panel’s conclusions, and will recommend to its trustees that the work be returned to the claimants.

The spoliation advisory panel resolves claims from people, or their heirs, who lost property during the Nazi era, which is now held in UK national collections.
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