French state to return 12 art works acquired under Vichy to descendants of Jewish lawyer

AFP 28 May 2021

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot next to "Rosebushes under the Trees" during announcement of the restitution of the artwork to its owner's descendants, Musee d'Orsay in Paris, March 15, 2021.

Armand Dorville died in July 1941, in the ‘southern zone,’ under the Vichy regime

The French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin announced Friday the return to the beneficiaries of the Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville of twelve works that the national museums had acquired during a sale in Nice in 1942.

These works, which the State will return on the recommendation of the French Commission for Compensation for Victims of Spoliations (CIVS), are in the Louvre, the Orsay Museum and the Château de Compiègne.

Armand Dorville, a French Jewish lawyer, had died in July 1941, in the "southern zone", under the Vichy regime. His collection was put on sale by his executor, in full agreement with his heirs.

From the start of the sale in Nice, on June 24, 1942, a provisional administrator was appointed by the General Commissariat for Jewish Questions. The national museums then bought the twelve works. In 1943, the proceeds from sales were sent in the form of government debt securities to the family's notary. But the heirs, dispersed in the south of France, could not collect their due. And five of them were later killed at Auschwitz. 

The CIVS considered that, even if the sale in Nice cannot itself be qualified as a plunderer, specific circumstances give the family a right to compensation.

"The beneficiaries will be compensated for the damage resulting from the immobilization of the proceeds of the sale from mid-1942 to the end of the war," said the CIVS in a press release.

These new restitutions are part of an acceleration of research on looted property, 76 years after the fall of Nazism. 

Most of these works are signed watercolors by Henry Bonaventure Monnier, Jean-Louis Forain, Constantin Guys and Pierre-Jules Mène.

As was the case for the painting "rose bushes under the trees" by Gustav Klimt, at the Musée d'Orsay, which France will return to a Jewish family from whom it was looted in 1938 in Austria, these twelve works belonging to the national public collections can only be returned with the adoption of an ad hoc law.
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