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Exhibition: À qui appartenaient ces tableaux? Spoliations, restitutions et recherche de provenance: le sort des oeuvres d’art revenues d’Allemagne après la guerre. Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme Paris 25 June to 26 October 2008 (To Whom Did These Paintings Belong? Spoliation, Restitution and Provenance Research: The Fate of Works of Art Returned from Germany after the War)

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This exhibition traced the story of works of art looted by the Nazis in France during the Second World War. Conceived by the Direction des musées de France and organised by the Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes, the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, the Direction des musées de France and the Réunion des musées nationaux in collaboration with the Israel Museum, where it was first shown, the exhibition drew from the collection of unrestituted works of art in France known as the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR). 

Approximately 60,000 objects that were taken from France and brought to Germany during World War II, either through looting or commercial transactions, were repatriated to France by the Allied authorities after the war for the purpose of restitution. At the beginning of the 1950s, without having found their rightful owners, 2,000 such works of art were given over to the custody of the Direction des musées de France  The 2,000 MNR works of art are today stored or exhibited in museums throughout France, including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Centre Georges-Pompidou. 

À qui appartenaient ces tableaux? brought together 53 paintings to explore the complex history behind the MNR holdings, with specific focus on the progress over the last ten years in tracing rightful ownership. The exhibition featured the work of major European artists, including Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and Georges Seurat. The exhibition illuminated the process of spoliation, its condemnation by the Allies in 1943 and the huge restitution operations undertaken at the end of the conflict


For 50 years the existence of the MNR works of art was unknown.  In 1995 it was brought to light by the author Hector Feliciano in his book Le musée disparu or The Lost Museum. Resulting from this disclosure, a complete, illustrated MNR catalogue was published online in November 1996 by the Musées de France, and the French authorities embarked on active provenance research. Claims have since been made for a number of MNR works of art and several have been restituted to their rightful owners.  

To help illuminate this ongoing process, the Mattéoli Commission, formed in 1997 by then Prime Minister Alain Juppé to study the matter of Jewish property restitution in France, recommended an exhibition of MNR works at the Israel Museum at the appropriate time.  
 
Research carried out by the directors of the Musées de France under the auspices of the Mattéoli Commission established that some 10 percent of the looted MNR works came from Jewish families. The remaining 90 percent were believed to correspond  to purchases made during the Occupation by German museums and collectors on the French art market, where many works were available that had been sold under duress.   
 
The MNR works of art featured in the exhibition were presented in several categories, including: works looted from unknown owners, works stolen from Jewish families that were returned following the war and subsequently re-gifted to or purchased by the State; unprovenanced works; works involved in transactions with the Nazis; and works bought in the French art market by German museums and private individuals during the war. The works on show are chosen to illustrate the current state of knowledge about this complex, painful history.

Any requests for restitution must be addressed to the Head of the Archives of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs along with the documentation required to identify ownership of the piece.

An illustrated catalogue accompanying this exhibit was published in French and English, written by Isabelle le Masne de Chermont, conservatrice générale at the Direction des musées de France and Laurence Sigal-Klagsbald, Director of the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.

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Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme
Hôtel de Saint-Aignan
71, rue du Temple
75003 Paris
Tel: +33 1 53 01 86 60
www.mahj.org/fr/index.php 

 
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