Court bars return of looted Old Masters

The Financial Times 28 May 2005
Nikki Tait

A "moral obligation" to return looted works of art cannot override laws barring trustees of the British Museum from disposing of objects in its collections.

The High Court ruling yesterday will prevent the museum from handing back four Old Master drawings which are thought to have been part of a collection seized by the Nazis in 1939 from a Czech man, Doctor Arthur Feldmann.

Dr Feldmann died after being imprisoned, but his family has been seeking the return of the drawings. It will also have implications for other artworks facing ownership claims and for other institutions with similar bars. A repres-entative for the Commission for Looted Art in Europe described the ruling as "significant" for all claimants of looted art from the Nazi era, and said that it showed "that the government ought now to legislate in order to achieve clarity for all claimants".

The museum acquired the drawings after the second world war. Although it stressed that the acquisition was in good faith, three years ago its trustees decided that the drawings represented "a unique moral claim" which the museum wished to meet.
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