Statement of Principles (1999) of the Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC), now The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)


Statement of Principles (1999) of the Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC), now The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)

April 1999

In April 1999 the Museums and Galleries Commission (now The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), which represents the non-national musuems and galleries in the UK, issued a Statement of Principles in respect of Nazi-confiscated art. The MGC works closely on this issue with the National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) Working Group on Spoliation  and is represented in the Group.

In conjunction with the NMDC, the MGC museums and galleries were asked to carry out provenance research on works in their collections in order to identify spoliated works. The results of that research is available on the website set up by the NMDC at The first progress report was published online in February 2000 and updated in October of the same year. In addition to individual action plans and progress-to-date for each museum and gallery, the site lists works of art with incomplete provenances between 1933-1945 under their respective institutions. The website also provides useful information for claimants and any interested enquirers.

MGC Statement of Principles

1. Introduction

1.1 The principles and recommended actions outlined below have been drawn up and approved by the Museums & Galleries Commission (MGC). They are based on principles and recommendations drawn up and issued by the National Museums Directors' Conference (NMDC), with which the MGC is working in close collaboration on this issue.

1.2 The Statement of Principles is issued by the MGC in its role as the principal advisory body on museums for Government and for museums themselves. It covers the MGC itself and the nonnational museum sector, the twenty-six national cultural institutions in membership of NMDC having already subscribed to NMDC's own parallel Statement of Principles (see 1.1. above).

1.3 The powers of non-national museums are governed by a variety of instruments, including Charity law, local government legislation and Royal Charter. Restitution or compensation in any single case may, therefore, be affected by the legal status of the institution concerned and may require consent from appropriate bodies. It is recognised that in cases where compensation is offered as an alternative to restitution, the institutions concerned would generally be unlikely to
be able to finance this from their existing running budgets and assistance would therefore need to be sought from their funding bodies or from central Government.

1.4 This document outlines the broad principles and proposed actions agreed by the MGC. It is not intended to create or alter any existing legal right or obligation.

1.5 The MGC has commissioned a set of Guidelines for Good Practice covering the subject of Requests for Restitution and Repatriation. These are expected to be published by July 1999. The general principles they set out will be relevant for material covered by this statement of principles.

1.6 At the same time, however, the MGC is, in collaboration with the Museums Association (MA) and the NMDC, assessing the need for more detailed guidance governing material which may have been wrongfully taken during the Nazi period, the Holocaust and World War II. In particular:

a. surveying collections and dealing with new acquisitions and loans;

b. guidance and information for enquirers or potential claimants;

c. dealing with claims.

1.6 For the purposes of interpreting this document, wrongful takin shall mean any act of theft or other deprivation, the legality of which is open to reasonable challenge, and which was committed during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II periods.

2. Statement of Principles

2.1 The MGC recognises and deplores the wrongful taking of works of art, which constituted one of the many horrors of the Nazi period, the Holocaust and World War II.

2.2 The MGC's supports the principle outlined in the MA's Code of Practice for Governing Bodies (1994) which states that a museum's 'Collections Management Policy should ensure, through the appropriate documentation, that the museum does not acquire or exhibit any stolen or illegally exported works and that it acquires legal title to items accessioned to its collections'.

2.3 This is reflected in Section 4.2.5 a. of the MGC's Guidelines for the Museum Registration


The Museum will not acquire, whether by purchase, gift, bequest, or exchange, any object or specimen unless the governing body or responsible officer is satisfied that the museum can acquire a valid title to the item in question, and that in particular it has not been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin (or any intermediate country in which it may have been legally owned) in violation of that country's laws.

2.4 The MGC is committed to working with other institutions and organisations both within the UK and internationally to increase awareness and understanding of the facts surrounding the spoliation of works of art by the Nazis and others during the Holocaust and World War II period.

2.5 The MGC requires agents or owners offering items in lieu of inheritance tax to provide details of known provenance and to confirm, that they have legal title to the items being offered, and that to the best of their knowledge such items have not been stolen or illegally exported.

2.6 The MGC requires applicants for Government Indemnity to take steps to confirm to the best of their knowledge that the owners of items offered on loan have legal title to them, and that such items have not been stolen or illegally exported.

2.7 The MGC requires applicants to its purchase funds to demonstrate to the best of their knowledge that funds will not be sought for any stolen or illegally exported works, or for works for which full legal title cannot be acquired.

2.8 The MGC recommends that museums give prompt and serious consideration to claims to title for specific works in their collections.

2.9 The MGC recommends that museums adopt a practical approach to reviewing and making accessible information relating to provenance of their collections, taking into account the nature and size of the collections concerned and the resources available.

2.10 The MGC advocates a process of reviewing, reporting and researching the issue of works of art wrongfully taken which respects the dignity of all parties and the complexity of the issue. Each claim represents a unique situation which must be reviewed thoroughly on a case by case basis taking into account both the interests of individuals and the statutory and legal
responsibilities of the institutions.

3. Actions concerning research and access to information

3.1 The MGC recommends that each museum with a Designated collection, and all other museums with collections which might contain material relevant to this statement of principles, should develop an action plan with regard to research on and access to information about their existing collections. This will vary in scope and timescale according to the size and nature of the collections and the resources available and may include:

- research based around specific enquiries;
- collation and monitoring of new information about provenance for this period as part of ongoing research;
- identification of objects for which provenance is unknown for any point during the years 1933-45.

The guidance referred to at 1.5 a above will advise on issues to consider in prioritising research
and making information available.

3.2 Each institution developing an action plan should nominate a person as the main point of contact for enquiries on this subject who will also keep a central record of research being undertaken.

3.3 The MGC will in turn keep a central record of the nature of the research being undertaken in
each institution.

3.4 The MGC undertakes to draw up guidance for potential enquirers including information about the collections of each institution, points of contacts, and types of information that may be available (eg databases, files, websites).

3.5 The MGC plans to work together with the UK Government, MA, NMDC, the Holocaust Educational Trust, other UK organisations and relevant overseas indivisuals and organisations to collect details of useful information sources, for example about missing objects, and the history of the movement of works of art during the period.

4. Procedures for acquisitions and incoming loans

4.1 In accordance with standard good practice, institutions acquiring or borrowing any new object should:

- exercise due diligence in satisfying themselves that the vendor/donor/executors/lender have good title to the object;
- in accordance with the MA guidance and MGC Registration requirements (both referred to above) take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the object has not been wrongfully taken without restitution having taken place subsequently;
- seek from the vendor, donor or executors the fullest possible information with regard to provenance including for the years 1933-45.

4.2 In accordance with standard practice, all information with regard to provenance collected during the acquisition process must be recorded on the main acquisition file.

4.3 For unique works of art with a value in excess of the level requiring an export licence, for which the provenance in the period 1933-45 is uncertain, and which may have been outside the UK for all or part of this period, it is recommended that a check be made with the Art Loss Register and/or other appropriate databases of missing works of art/claimants. Detailed
guidance (referred to at 1.5a above) will provide suggestions regarding other types of check that may be carried out, depending on the nature of the acquisition.

4.4 If there is no evidence of wrongful taking then the acquisition may proceed. If there is demonstrable or probable evidence of wrongful taking, then the institution should not proceed to acquire the object.

4.5 Guidance for staff (referred at 1.5a above) should include information and advice on:

- use of warranties
- information to seek from vendor or lender
- suggested sources of information and approaches to checking provenance.

4.6 Consistent with current practice institutions should publish, display or otherwise make accessible all recent gifts, bequests and purchases, thereby making them available for further research examination and study.

4.7 Borrowing institutions should ensure that the terms of the UK Government indemnity record the fact that it does not cover any third party claims and draw the attention of the lender to this fact.

4.8 In the event that an institution believes that an object it is seeking to borrow is, or is likely to become, the subject of a claim, it should not proceed with the loan.

5. Discovery of the wrongful taking of works of art

5.1 If, in the light of new information, a museum becomes aware that an object in its collection was, or is likely to have been, wrongfully taken during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period and was not subsequently restituted, this information should be made public and recorded with the MGC and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The known
facts regarding the provenance of the work shall be shown on object labels and in any new publications relating to the work.

5.2 Making public means issuing a press release to all media to which the institution in question usually issues press releases and to such principal additional media within the UK as are generally known to serve any ethnic or national group likely to have a particular interest in the matter. The guidance referred to at 1.5a and 4.5 above will provide advice on such additional media.

5.3 An institution would normally expect to receive any claims within a period of six years from the publication of new information relating to provenance in accordance with 5.1 and 5.2 above.

5.4 If a claimant shows within a reasonable period of compliance by an institution with 5.1 and 5.2 above that on a balance of probabilities a work of art was wrongfully taken during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period, and that but for such wrongful taking, the claimant would have an interest in the object, then the institution will seek to resolve the matter in an equitable, appropriate and mutually agreeable manner, (taking into account the possibility of competing third party claims) as permitted by its legal status and in conjunction with DCMS.

6. Processes for dealing with enquiries and claims

6.1 Each museum developing an action plan shall nominate a member of staff as the main point of contact for enquiries and claims.

6.2 Should an institution receive a claim that an object in its collection was wrongfully taken during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period it shall record the date and nature of the claim both in a register kept by it for that purpose and in the dossier of the object concerned and shall, as soon as practicable, advise the MGC and DCMS of the claim. Within the limits of its then existing resources the institution shall review such claim promptly and thoroughly with the claimant, including requesting evidence of the claimant's interest in the object to help determine its provenance.

6.3 Guidance for enquirers and claimants should include information and advice on searching for objects and information that should be included with a claim.

6.4 The MGC will keep a central record of the progress of all claims received.

APRIL 1999

Contact Information 

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)
Victoria House
Southampton Row
London WC1B 4EA
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7273 1444
Fax: +44 (0)20 7273 1404

NMDC  Working Group on Spoliation
Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
Fax: +44 (0)20 7942 2162

Kate Bellamy (Secretary)
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7942 2817

Suzie Tucker (Executive Assistant)
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7942 2818


National Museum Directors Conference
>, first accessed 21 November 2002.  Link updated 19 July 2007.

Cultural Property Advice - Spoliation Reports
<>, first accessed 21 November 2002.  Link updated 19 July 2007.

Museum Security Network

<>, first accessed 26 November 2002.  Link updated 19 July 2007.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)
<>, accessed 19 July 2007.

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