Nazi painting may be returned to Germany

The Telegraph 6 January 2007
Nigel Reynolds

A Nazi-era painting which has been at the National Maritime Museum since it was looted by British troops in 1945 may have to be returned to Germany.

The giant picture, painted in 1936 by Claus Bergen, a Nazi sympathiser, commemorates the German sailors who died at the Battle of Jutland, the biggest naval engagement in the First World War. Glorifying German militarism, it shows a wreath emblazoned with a swastika on a featureless sea. The work, Wreath in the North Sea in Memory of the Battle of Jutland, is thought to have been seized by British soldiers from the Mürwik Naval Academy near Flensburg on the Baltic Coast at the end of the Second World War. It was allocated to the Greenwich museum by the UK Naval War Trophies Committee.

The Art Newspaper reported yesterday that it had informed Mürwik of the painting's whereabouts last month. The academy was now considering making a claim on Britain.

Lt Cmdr Rüdiger Schiel, of the academy, said: "It's good news to hear there is a chance of getting things back which were taken during the Second World War."

Ironically, if the Germans pursue the case, the painting, which measures 12ft by 6ft, may have to be returned under rules introduced in 1998 requiring British museums to hand back art to descendants of, primarily, Jews, who had them confiscated by the Nazis.

A number of treasures seized by Nazis found their way into museums in this country after the war and have recently been returned to families after a review by a committee under the National Museums' 1998 statement of principles on spoliation. Claimants can seek the return of any object "wrongly taken" during the war and the Holocaust. The Art Newspaper said it believed that the principles could apply equally to an object removed from Germany as to a work stolen from a Holocaust victim.

The National Maritime Museum admitted that it suspected the picture may have come from Mürwik, though it had no evidence.

A spokesman said: "We are planning to complete our research as far as possible before contacting any other organisations."
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