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New York museum reveals art looted by Nazis

New York museums that display works of art looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust are now required by law to inform the public about the dark chapters of their provenance through placards displayed with the loot.

Experts say at least 600,000 pieces of art were looted from Jews before and during World War II. Some of that loot ended up in the world’s greatest museums.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law in August requiring museums to post signs identifying works looted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.

New rules emerge as many museums in the United States and Europe take into account collections containing numerous objects looted from Asia, Africa and elsewhere during centuries of colonialism. I was.

It’s not clear how much of the artwork currently on display will end up being labeled as Nazi booty, and there’s already disagreement over certain artworks with complex histories.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has confirmed that 53 items in its collection were seized or sold under duress during the Nazi era.

All of these objects were acquired by the museum after being returned to their rightful owners. But Andrea Bayer, the museum’s deputy director of collections and management, said the public should still know about their history.

“People know the terrible price they suffered when these confiscations took place during World War II, and how the treasures of these people, whom they loved and which were in their families, disrupted their lives. You have to recognize how you were torn at the same time,” she said.

However, the museum has no intention of affixing such an autograph to a Picasso painting called “The Actor” donated in 1952.

The painting once belonged to Jewish businessman Paul Lefman, who fled Germany to escape the Nazis, first to Italy and finally to Brazil. Leffman liquidated his property in 1938, so he sold the painting to a Parisian art dealer for $13,200.

Laurel Zuckerman, Refman’s great-grandson, sued the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016, claiming the bargain sale prices reflected the desperation of the family trying to flee Europe. countered that it was actually higher. A US court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit.

Lawrence Kay, one of Zuckerman’s attorneys, said the museum should put up a placard with the painting’s controversial history, despite the outcome.

“I believe the law covers this part. It was dismissed for technical reasons, but under the broad definition of what this law means under the law, I believe it should be covered.” “I believe,” Kay said.

Researching the provenance of objects has become easier in the digital age, and some museums have begun efforts to identify artworks with problematic ownership histories.

New York law already required museums to report works believed to have been stolen during the Nazi era to the Art Loss Register, the world’s largest database of stolen art.

A US law passed in 2016 gives Holocaust-era persecution victims and their heirs a fair chance to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis.

“This law legally allowed people to claim and sue,” he said, representing Jews around the world in negotiating victims of Nazi persecution and compensation for those victims. said Wesley Fisher, director of research at the Advocacy Council, a group that Heir.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s improved,” he said.

In 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City returned Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s painting Artillerymen to the family of Alfred Frechtheim, a Jewish art dealer who fled Berlin in 1933 and was forced to abandon the collection. did.

A spokesperson for the Guggenheim said the museum was not aware of other works in the collection looted by the Nazis, but was continuing to research them.

In 2019, the Arkel Museum in upstate New York returned the painting after it was revealed to have been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis in 1933. The museum’s director, Susan Friedlander, said she “fully supports the recent legislation regarding the seized works”. Nazis. “

Last year, the Jewish Museum in New York City hosted an exhibition devoted to looted art and ceremonial items.

Signs of art looted by the Nazis are a unique New York policy, but other museums in the United States are making efforts to trace the provenance of potentially stolen art.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston began a Nazi-era provenance study of their work in 1998, identifying objects in the collection that were lost or stolen during the Nazi era and never returned to their rightful owners.

The Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles explores the German art trade from 1900 to 1945 and now offers digital access to auction sales catalogs related to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Among the 53 works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a late 15th- and late 16th-century Turkish helmet confiscated by the Nazis in 1938 from its owner, Baron Alphonse Meyer Rothschild. It was returned to Rothschild’s widow in 1949 and sold to the museum in 1950.

The other is the 1695 painting The Gamepiece of a Dead Heron by Dutch painter Jan Weenix. It was also seized by the Nazis from the Rothschilds in 1939, returned to a widow in 1948, and sold to a museum in 1950.

Over the past 20 years, the museum has reached a return or settlement of 10 works of art that changed hands during the Nazi era, including a painting by Claude Monet.

New York State Senator Anna M. Kaplan, who supported the legislation, said the new law was intended to educate young people unfamiliar with the Holocaust.

“Holocaust survivors are a dying generation, so this becomes much more important,” said Fischer of the Billing Conference. “Objects become more important. The idea that students and the general public need to visit museums to understand where these items came from is important.” New York museum reveals art looted by Nazis

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