News:

Poland renews claim to looted art

1970
1945
The Seattle Times 31 January 2005
Joe Milicia

CLEVELAND — Polish officials say legal documents compiled in a new book bolster their ownership claim of drawings by Renaissance master Albrecht Durer that were looted by the Nazis during World War II.

The 27 drawings were stolen from the Ossolinski Institute in present-day Lviv, Ukraine, which was once part of Poland, and sold on the international art market after the war ended.

They are now owned by major museums and collections in the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. In 1952, the Cleveland Museum of Art bought two of the drawings: "The Dead Christ" and "The Ascension." It purchased "Head of a Man in a Cap" in 1963.

"The Dead Christ," 1505, by German artist Albrecht Durer, was bought by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1952. Polish officials say legal documents compiled in a new book bolster their claim to the German master's drawings that were looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Harold Holzer, senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan, said last week that the museum believes it acquired its two Durer drawings in a fair manner, citing a 2001 ruling by a State Department special envoy for Holocaust issues.

But Holzer said the museum will examine the book and revisit the issue.

"We believe that we owe our public and the people who took the pains to assemble this document the courtesy of intelligent review to see if it sheds any new light on this issue," Holzer said.

The Cleveland Museum issued a statement saying that it is reviewing the book and "will respond appropriately."

The new book, "The Fate of the Lubomirski Durers," was published by the Society of the Friends of the Ossolinski Institute with support from the American Council of Polish Culture.

"For the first time, all documents related to the case were put together and translated from different languages into plain English," said Boguslaw Winid, deputy chief of the Polish Embassy in Washington.

Winid said the documents, some dating back to the 19th century, track the complicated history of the drawings, which were taken in 1941 from the Ossolinski Institute in Lviv, which was then in Poland.

Albrecht Durer's "The Ascension." The German artist combined the discoveries of Italian painters with the tradition of his homeland.

After the war, the U.S. military found the drawings in an Austrian salt mine and gave them to a descendant of the original owner, Prince Heinrich Lubomirski, a wealthy landowner. The descendant, Georg Lubomirski, sold them.

Polish scholars say documents in the new book show that the Ossolinski Institute should have received the drawings, not Lubomirski.

Questions about their ownership involve the changing of national borders in Eastern Europe: both Ukraine and Poland have said they own the drawings and want them back.

Durer, who died in 1528, combined the discoveries of Italian painters with the tradition of his homeland in his works, which also included engravings and paintings.

Winid said he hopes the museums will evaluate the book and reach a compromise with Poland.

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