London: Tate Britain has temporarily halted the restitution of a seascape by Constable that is thought to have been looted during the Nazi era. This is the first time a UK museum has appealed against a recommendation of the government's Spoliation Advisory Panel. It follows fresh information provided by a reader of The Art Newspaper last year.
A Tate spokeswoman would only say: "New information has come to light on the history of the painting Beaching a Boat, Brighton (1824) by John Constable in the Tate's collection. The Tate trustees have now approached the secretary of state [at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport] to invite the Spoliation Advisory Panel to review the new information."
The picture was donated to the Tate in 1986 by Mrs P.M. Rainsford, who had bought it in good faith in 1962. In March 2014, the panel concluded that the painting had been looted from its Hungarian owner in 1944 and should be restituted to his heirs.
We named the Hungarian collector as Baron Ferenc Hatvany. Within days of the decision in May 2014 to deaccession the work, the Tate was contacted by one of our readers, who provided fresh information. As a result, the gallery has temporarily halted the process.
The Tate is unwilling to disclose what new information has emerged, but it does concern the "history" of the painting, probably during the 1940s. The Mail on Sunday has reported the discovery, at Budapest's Museum of Fine Arts, of a Hungarian export certificate from 1946 which appears to record the transfer of the painting to Zurich by Fábri Karola. This suggests that the work remained in Budapest, although it remains unclear how Karola acquired it.
The decision on what happens next lies with the culture department, which is expected to make a decision after the UK general election in May.