The Sunday Times 24 November 2002
Senay Boztas, Scottish Arts Correspondent
A PAINTING in the acclaimed Burrell Collection had been looted by the Nazis, but Glasgow city council is refusing to return it to the heirs of its original Jewish owners.
At a meeting next month the council will admit that a still life oil painting, Le Pâté de Jambon in the collection given to the city by the entrepreneur Sir William Burrell, was wrongfully obtained.
John Lynch, chairman of the council’s repatriation working group, expects the group to decide to offer compensation to the family, who live in Germany, rather than return it.
The offer is expected to be significantly below what the family believes the painting is worth because the council contends that it is a fake.
Six family members, who have asked to remain anonymous, claim it is by the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) and worth up to £100,000.
Lynch said Scottish art experts have confirmed that the painting was not by Chardin but was painted by an imitator after his death. “Compensation would be the preferred option in most cases (of looted art), but this would be less because the painting is not by Chardin,” he said last week.
“If it were, the maximum could be £100,000 but compensation for a painting not by Chardin would probably be around £25,000, made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).”
Glasgow’s admission opens the way for more looted art claims because it confirms that respected collectors used art dealers who traded with the Nazis.
Documents received from lawyers representing the claimants in Berlin show that the painting was auctioned by their family in 1936 to raise money to settle a tax bill unjustly levied by the Nazis.
Burrell, who started collecting art in the 1880s, kept a series of jotters recording his acquisitions from 1911 until his death in 1958. They show that he bought the painting, then attributed to Chardin, on June 22, 1936 from the German art dealer Julius Bohler for £647 14s.
It had been sold from the Paul Bureau in Paris on May 20, 1927. But there was a gap in its ownership between these dates, so the item was posted on a national website for artworks that had doubtful provenance during the Nazi period.
Lynch said Burrell had bought works from Bohler before and would not have known there had been a forced sale. But five months after it was put on the website the German family asked for its return or compensation.
At the time Ephraim Borowsky, vice-president of the Jewish Representative Council in Glasgow, said he was “confident” that the city council would do the right thing.
There is a fierce debate in the art world about whether “stolen” works should be returned. The British Museum, which last month admitted that four of its old master drawings were Nazi loot, said its preference would be to return them — but laws prevent the dissemination of its collection.
Glasgow’s preference for keeping artworks has been criticised by Mike Russell, culture spokesman for the SNP. “Glasgow city council should give the painting back,” he said. “In addition, this kind of claim should not depend on families spotting things on a website. There should be a UK budget for art galleries to be proactive about advertising and investigating art of doubtful provenance.”
Anne Webber, co-chairman of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said: “Many families want their looted art returned because of its great emotional and symbolic value. Restitution is the normal remedy for theft and is one of the remedies recognised by the DCMS in cases of Nazi looted art. We would be concerned if Scotland were ruling it out in principle.”
The commission’s sister body, the Central Registry, will this week launch a looted art search website, including images because titles and attributions can change.
The DCMS said: “We are waiting to hear from Glasgow whether they wish to refer it to the Spoliation Advisory Panel, which assesses each case on an individual basis.”
Websites about looted art are: www.lootedart.com and www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/spoliation/spoliation.html http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/newspapers/sunday_times/scotland/article834950.ece