Christie's denies Nazi cover-up

BBC 24 October 2003

Auction house Christie's has denied a report that it covered up the Nazi past of a painting it offered for sale.

The Guardian newspaper said Christie's failed to alert the authorities or the heirs to the painting by Jacob Duck after discovering it had been looted.

But the auctioneers said they adhered to international law and did no wrong.

The painting, The Merry Company With a Woman Playing A Lute, by the Dutch master, was auctioned in Germany in 1937 after its Jewish owners fled.

It was offered for sale by a private German collector in July 2000.

But Christie's said its own research discovered that the painting had a controversial past and its sale was averted.

A Christie's spokeswoman told BBC News Online they were only obliged to tell the vendor and could not tell the heirs of the original owners or any outside authorities.

"We do not have the legal right to breach our duty of confidentiality by contacting third parties without the vendor's permission, nor did we have the right to withhold the painting from the vendor," she said.

Owners fled

"For this reason, we did the next best thing and encouraged the vendor to contact the Art Loss Register who would help him to locate and contact the heirs. We also offered to assist him in this."

Under law, art that can be proven stolen cannot be sold unless authorised by its rightful owners, or their heirs.

The painting had been owned by a Jewish couple from Berlin, Ulla and Moritz Rosenthal, who fled from Germany in 1937. It was sold in an auction of some 800 items from their apartment.
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