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Exhibitions: “Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II' and 'Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum' Israel Museum Jerusalem 19 February to 3 June 2008

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1.  Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War 11

This exhibition traced the story of works of art looted by the Nazis in France during the Second World War. Organized by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Communication in collaboration with the Israel Museum, the exhibition
drew from the collection of unrestituted works of art in France known as the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR). 

 
Looking for Owners brought together over 50 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, Claude Monet, and Georges Seurat.
 
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. In the early 1950s 2,000 works of art that had not been restituted were given in custody to to the directors of the Musées de France. Today they are stored or exhibited in museums throughout France, including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Centre Georges-Pompidou. 
 
In 1995 the existence of the MNR works of art 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.   
 
Looking for Owners featured fifty-three works from the MNR collection 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 were chosen to illustrate the current state of knowledge about this complex, painful history.

A list of the 53 works exhibited in Jerusalem was published on the website of the Israeli Justice Ministry accompanied by photographs and notices of provenance, in order to permit any person with rights to those works to come forward and assert them.  Any requests for restitution had to 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.

The Israel Museum's press release for this exhibition is available here.


2.  Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum

The companion exhibition at the Israel Museum explored the fate of works of art looted during World War II that were subsequently brought to Israel. Culled from 1,200 such works held in custody by the Israel Museum, all of which lack clear ownership history, Orphaned Art features over fifty paintings, drawings, prints, and books, together with a selection of Jewish ceremonial objects, and includes such artists as Jan Both, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Marc Chagall, Egon Schiele, and Alfred Sisley.

Orphaned Art offers an important opportunity to explore one dimension of the story of art looted during World War II, focusing specifically on those works whose histories vanished completely and which arrived in Israel during the early 1950s,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “In presenting this exhibition concurrently with Looking for Owners, we hope to illuminate the range of ongoing efforts to conclude the saga of lost art and artifacts of World War II and to highlight the shared significance of this process within the international museum community.”

In 1948, works of art and Judaica that were identified as having been looted from Jews or Jewish communities but were heirless and unclaimed were released from their central collecting points in Germany and given to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO). JRSO subsequently undertook a programme to distribute these orphaned objects among museums, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations in Israel and worldwide through the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (JCR). Some of these objects were deposited for safekeeping at the Bezalel National Museum, predecessor to the Israel Museum, which, following its establishment in 1965, became the custodian of some 250 paintings, 250 works on paper, and 700 objects of Judaica, all received through JRSO-JCR.

Most of the JRSO works that arrived at the Israel Museum had no prior ownership history or basic catalogue information, and many came in poor condition. Those of significant artistic quality have been displayed regularly in the Museum’s galleries and elsewhere.  Beginning as early as 1950, individuals have come forward to claim JRSO works, with the most recent claims honored in 2006 and 2007.

In August 2007 the Israel Museum published an illustrated catalogue of the c 1,200 JRSO works in the Museum which is available here

The Israel Museum's press release for this exhibition is available here.
 
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