Art law experts frustrated over response to latest restitution claim

Art Law and More 30 June 2016

“Disingenuous” and “depressing” is how art law experts are describing the response of Bavarian authorities to the latest art restitution claim by the heirs of a Jewish family who fled Nazi persecution during World War II.

The experts, which include art lawyers Christopher Marinello of the Art Recovery Group in London and Nicholas O’Donnell, shared their frustrations over the official response to the claim with artnet News. The family of collectors Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus, who fled Vienna in 1938, are seeking to recover around 160 artworks, which they claim were looted by the Nazis. On the back of their claim an investigation was launched by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) into the fate of Jewish-owned artworks following the collapse of the Nazi regime. The CLAE report published on 25 June suggests that instead of being restituted back to Jewish families, looted art was sold to the families of Nazi officials at a reduced price.

Responding to the CLAE report, the Bayerische Staatsgemälde-Sammlungen (Bavarian State Collections) published a statement on 28 June refuting the report’s findings and insisting it “made earnest and extensive efforts in provenance research in recent decades”. The statement was met with scepticism by O’Donnell who told artnet News that “it shows once again that literal, actual Nazis got their paintings back because they said, ‘Oh no, I had that before the war. Trust me’”. Marinello also questioned the sincerity of the authorities’ response to restitution claims. “I don’t doubt that German authorities have put the best researchers available onto this project (just as they have done in the Gurlitt case), but have they done enough?” he asked.

In the wake of the Kraus controversy the co-chair of the CLAE, Anne Webber, has called on German authorities to ensure greater transparency in the way Nazi-looted art claims are dealt with in the country’s art and antiques trade. Webber asks that the authorities publish a full list of problematic works of art to better protect the heirs of victims of Nazi spoliation as well as present-day art collectors and dealers. “People should know this problem exists and understand the risks that lack of disclosure brings to the trade and to justice,” Webber told the Antiques Trade Gazette.
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