Israel Museum rejects claims it neglected to return Nazi looted art to owners

Haaretz 9 January 2014
By Ofer Aderet

Ten stolen works were restored to their legal owners since 2000, museum says.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem rejected Thursday claims that the museums in Israel have not made an effort until now to identify works of art stolen by the Nazis that are in their possession, in order to find their legal owners.

The museum said that in recent years it returned 10 works of art to their legal owners, including several important and valuable paintings.

Israeli museums came under fire on Wednesday after the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets announced that some of them, including the Tel Aviv Art Museum, the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, the Museum of Art Ein Harod and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, all have art works, or it is reasonable to assume they have such works that were looted from Jews.

Unlike other countries around the world, the museums in Israel never actually acted to identify the stolen works, publish them and locate their lawful owners - and that is in violation of the treaties the State of Israel has signed,” said Dr. Israel Peleg, the CEO of the Restitution Company.

In response, the Israel Museum told Haaretz that it is "engaged in comprehensive activity to return works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and is today considered one of the leading museums in the world in that area.” The museum also stated it has invested considerable resources in historical research to identify the source of the works in its possession.

Maurice Utrillo, Restaurant des Quatre Pavillons 1922, oil on canvas. Photo by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The museum named the works returned to their owners since 2000. Last year, for example, Max Liebermann’s “House and Garden in Wannsee” was returned. Another of his works, “Return of Tobias,” was returned to his heirs in 2011. A year earlier the painting “Veil Dance“ (1920) by Paul Klee was returned to the estate of art collector Harry Fuld Jr. In 2000 the museum returned “Boulevard Montmartre (1897) by Camille Pissarro to an heiress of Max Silberberg, murdered in the Holocaust. She decided to leave the painting on display in the museum on long-term loan. In addition, the museum published on its website all the works in its possession of suspicious origin, whose owners have not been found. The list includes 1,200 items, including works of art and Judaica. Some of them were exhibited in special exhibitions designed to help to find the heirs: “Whose pictures are these?” and “Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum.
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