Louvre teams up with Sotheby’s to investigate provenance of works bought during the Second World War

The Art Newspaper 24 January 2022
By Gareth Harris

The auction house will help the Parisian institution research the history of items purchased between 1933 and 1945, which "may lead to restitutions"

Sotheby’s and the Louvre in Paris have joined forces on a project aimed at researching items acquired by the museum between 1933 and 1945. The sponsorship deal, which lasts three years, will help fund research that “may lead to restitutions [incorporating] digitisation, the organisation of seminars, study days, and publications”, the Louvre says in a statement.

Museum officials add: “This patronage echoes Sotheby's commitment to the restitution of works that changed hands between 1933 and 1945. It was the first international auction house to have a department dedicated to provenance research and restitution.” Sotheby’s restitution department was founded in 1997.

A day of film screenings is planned at the Louvre on 27 January, The International Day of Film on Art, as part of the joint programme. The event includes The Art Market During the Occupation, a 2021 documentary based on the findings of the art historian Emmanuelle Polack who was appointed by the Louvre in 2020 to investigate its acquisitions made during the period 1933 to 1945. 

A study day is also scheduled for 2 February which will focus on “the chain of transfer of ownership of works and cultural objects… in the light of the German Occupation and the Vichy laws.” Other topics covered include “purchases at public auction [by] the Egyptian Department of Antiquities between 1933 and 1945”.

Last year, the Louvre launched an online database of 485,000 object records drawn from dozens of internal databases. More than 1,700 works that were recovered in Germany after the Second World War but have never been returned to the descendants of their rightful owners are listed under the category of Musées Nationaux Récupération. The works do not belong to the French state but are managed by the Louvre and entrusted to French national museums for safekeeping. A Louvre spokeswoman says that the “partnership with Sotheby’s concerns works which are in the Louvre collections, not the MNR”.
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