Basel museums to review origins of art collections

Swissinfo 15 September 2022

Five museums in Switzerland's art hub of Basel plan to examine the origins of objects in their collections amid efforts across Europe to identify the rightful owners of cultural assets.

On Thursday, the Basel City cantonal government announced that it is setting aside CHF250,000 starting in 2023 to continue tracing the provenance of art and other objects in cantonal museums.

The aim, said cantonal president Beat Jans, “is to gain clarity about the origin of our collections step by step and to communicate the research results transparently." The focus is on a dialogue in search of fair solutions, that also take into account the canton’s interests.

A few museums have already started provenance research including the Kunstmuseum Basel, which identified a late medieval portrayal of the apocalypse, which had been forcibly taken from the Portheim Foundation in Heidelberg, Germany, during the Nazi era. The Kunstmuseum and the rightful owners have agreed on the return of the work. However, the owners proposed that the artwork be on permanent loan in the museum.

The Basel government has also agreed that the Natural History Museum should return twelve skulls and a hair sample that belong to Aboriginal Australian communities. The Australian government requested that the Aboriginal ancestral objects remain in their homeland.

The Museum of History plans to examine 35 objects, including furniture, ceramics and paintings, recently donated by the Emile Dreyfus Foundation. Many of the objects were acquired after 1933. The Museum of Antiquities has set up a partnership project with other Swiss institutions and museums in Nigeria and Benin to determine the provenance of objects in its collections.
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