Nazi treasures could be in revamped Scottish gallery

Sunday Times 27 March 2022
By Paul Drury

A priceless art collection gathered by the late Scottish shipping magnate Sir William Burrell may contain more artefacts that were looted by the Nazis than previously thought.

The admission has been made by Glasgow Life, the body that runs the museum, on the eve of the long-awaited re-opening of the world-famous Burrell museum after a £70 million refurbishment. The museum in Pollok Park will open its doors on Tuesday for the first time in six years, allowing public access to a treasure trove of artworks that Burrell, who died in 1958, collected during his lifetime.

Last week, civic officials accepted that new research had identified more artefacts that may have come from Nazi-era “forced sales” after wealthy Jews were stripped of their possessions in the 1930s and 1940s. Glasgow Life declined to identify which items may have been plundered, prompting criticism from one of Scotland’s leading historians, Sir Tom Devine.

“As long as the provenance of these items is established by experts and curators, it should always be made public,” he said. “The question the public will ask is ‘what do they have to hide?’

“I find the refusal rather curious. Curators of museums always want the truth to be out, and unvarnished at that.”

Glasgow council has previously paid out thousands of pounds in compensation to the descendants of Jews living in 1930s Germany for exhibits that were known to have been looted by the Nazis.

They include The Visitation, an early 16th-century Swiss tapestry and a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, that will be on display from Tuesday.

In a new book, A Collector’s Life: William Burrell, authors Martin Bellamy and Isobel MacDonald say “research by the current curatorial team has indicated there are other works in Burrell’s collection that may have been acquired as a result of forced sales”.

They reveal that Burrell was open about the source of some of his purchases in small exercise jotters that he used to record the provenance, description and price paid for each item.

“Some of the practices that were employed would not be viewed as ethical today,” Bellamy and MacDonald say.

In 2004, the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel found that the Chardin painting had been part of a 500-piece collection owned by AS Dray, a Jewish-owned gallery in Munich. The family’s heirs accepted a £10,000 payment from Glasgow council.

Other exhibits on display at the Burrell museum include a rare, 2000-year-old bronze ritual wine vessel that was stolen during a raid by British troops on the Summer Palace in Beijing, in 1901. It dates from the Han Dynasty.
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