An investigation has been launched to examine hundreds of paintings owned by a Swiss art collector to see if they may have been stolen by Nazis from their Jewish owners during World War II.
The Foundation for Art, Culture and History, called the SKKG, in Switzerland was founded by Swiss real estate magnate and art collector Bruno Stefanini, who died in 2018. His collection of fine art and historic memorabilia includes more than 100,000 items and 6,000 oil paintings, as well as pieces by artists that were hailed by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, according to a report in The New York Times.
The foundation, which loans items to museums, started in July 2022 an investigation into Stefanini’s collection of paintings to identity more information about their ownership.
The foundation has also launched an independent commission “for the clarification of Nazi persecution-related claims” which will assess how to deal with the findings of the investigation.
The New York Times reported in early February that a preliminary review of items in Stefanini’s collection thought to be most likely looted from Jews or sold due to Nazi persecution found that six out of 93 pieces raised concerns and needed additional research. The foundation has not released the names of those works.
“When cultural goods lost due to Nazi persecution have not yet been returned, claims are usually not enforceable from a traditional legal perspective,” the foundation said. “The SKKG feels ethically obliged to honor both the former ownership and the circumstances of the loss through fair and just solutions.”
The foundation will publish the results of its investigations and said that “in processing [the] provenance, it also sees potential for social discussion on the issue of history and responsibility.” It noted that “a just and fair solution must be found for both cultural goods lost due to Nazi persecution which are subject to a claim and those not subject to a claim or for which no heirs can be identified.”
The independent commission will make its decisions based on international standards such as the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art of 1998, the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues of 2009 and the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums of 2004.
SKKG Director Christoph Lichtin said, “By indexing the biographies of the objects and identifying possible cultural property lost due to persecution, the SKKG is creating added value for dealing with the works as well as for coming to terms with the history of the collection.”
The independent commission is led by Andrea Raschèr, a lawyer and former official of the Swiss culture ministry who specialized in looted art.