London to host landmark conference on stolen art

Hundreds of experts from across the globe will descend on London in September for an international conference on Nazi-looted art.

‘70 Years and Counting: The final opportunity?’ will be the first European conference dedicated to the issue of spoliation in five years. Organised by the UK Government and the Spoliation Advisory Panel and sponsored by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe the conference will aim to bolster efforts to return stolen artworks to their original owners. It will look at strengthening partnerships and increasing cooperation to speed up the process of restitution. Currently, over 100,000 spoliated artworks have yet to be returned to the families of those from whom they were stolen during the Second World War. The works are believed to be held in private and public collections. 20% of European cultural objects are estimated to have been looted by the Nazis with many of the victims being Jewish families.

More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, some families are still waiting for their cultural property to be returned”, UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, John Glen, said in a press release. “We want countries from across the continent to help right this historic wrong”.

Co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, Anne Webber, said that progress in reuniting stolen works with their owners has been slow. “Almost 20 years since the commitments made by 44 countries at the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, little provenance research has been completed or published and few fair and equitable claims processes have been established” Webber stated.

Nevertheless, the UK is considered a world-leader in restitution with national museums taking an active role in researching the provenance of objects in their collections. Restitution claims relating to artworks held in British collections are examined by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was established by the UK Government in 2000.

The Conference will be held on 12 September 2017 at London’s National Gallery. It comes shortly after the UK Government announced plans to renew the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which empowers national museums to return Nazi-looted artworks. The Government will seek to renew the Act indefinitely so that it extends beyond its 11 November 2019 expiry date.

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