Royal Museum for Central Africa

Looking “history straight in the eye”: Belgium takes significant step in the restitution of Congolese objects

Last week, Belgium handed over a list of 84,000 artifacts of Congolese origin to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first step in the process of restitution of objects from the colonial period. The items are held in the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, an institution with one of the largest collections of African objects in the world which was established at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Private collector claims innocence in restitution tussle

A private art collector has vowed to defend himself against a restitution claim for a painting by Andreas Achenbach.

Wolfgang Peiffer lent a number of works from his private collection for an exhibition at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf in collaboration with the Museum L8A in Baden-Baden. Among the loans was Achenbach’s ‘Sicilian Landscape’ (1861), which has been claimed by the heirs of Jewish art dealer Max Stern. After it was registered as a missing work by Interpol and on the German database the painting was recognised by a researcher at the L8A exhibition. When New York’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) tried to contact Peiffer about the work he did not respond. Continue reading

Gurlitt treasures returned to rightful owners

Two works from the Gurlitt treasure trove of art have been restituted to the descendants of their Jewish owners.

A painting by Camille Pissarro and a drawing by Adolph Menzel are two of four works to have been returned to their rightful owners since investigations into the collection’s questionable provenance began in 2012. A German government team tasked with researching the Gurlitt collection have suggested that a further 91 artworks are suspected of being looted from, or sold under duress by Jewish families fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.   Continue reading

US government votes in favour of art restitution law

In a rare moment of solidarity in US politics a historic art restitution bill was passed by Congress on Friday (9 December).

Proposed in April this year, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR) facilitates the restitution process by which Nazi-looted art is returned to its rightful pre-war owners. The bill was backed by Republican senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn together with Democrat Senators Charles Schumer and Richard Blumenthal. Continue reading

Sixteen-year legal battle over Pissarro painting returns to court

In one of the longest-running art restitution disputes in the US, the descendants of Lilly Cassirer, who fled Nazi Germany with her husband in 1939, are fighting tooth and nail against Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum to reclaim Camille Pissarro’s ‘Rue Saint-Honoré dans l’après-midi. Effet de pluie’ (1897).

The Cassirer family claims that Lilly and her husband were forced to trade the £24 million French Impressionist work for their exit visas in order to escape persecution. The painting changed hands between numerous art dealers and collectors over the course of a decade before finally arriving in Spain in 1993. When the Cassirers finally found the painting in a museum catalogue in 1999 they requested its return. The Museum refused and the family filed suit, commencing legal proceedings which have ensued for the past 16 years. Continue reading

French government ramps up efforts to restitute ‘orphan works’

A 16th century painting, restituted to the heirs of a Jewish couple forced to sell it when they fled Nazi Germany, could pave the way for many other works to return to their rightful owners.

Attributed to Joos van Cleve or his son Cornelis, the portrait was reunited with the family of Hertha and Henry Bromberg in a ceremony in Paris on Monday (28 November). Presenting the work to the Bromberg’s grandchildren, the French culture minister, Audrey Azoulay, acknowledged that its return was “quite belated”. She told those in attendance that the French government had only recently begun to step up its restitution efforts and become more “proactive” in seeking the original owners of works confiscated by the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Instead of relying on claimants to come forward, the French government is now actively seeking out the descendants of those whose artworks were stolen or forcibly sold. “It was no longer possible to merely wait for the rightful beneficiaries to come ask for the restitution of what is theirs,” Azoulay said. As a result of these efforts, a further 27 objects are set to be returned after French authorities identified their rightful owners.

The Bromberg portrait was purchased by Henry Bromberg’s father Martin in 1912 at auction in Berlin. Characteristic of Flemish portraiture from the 1530s to 1540s, it depicts a man dressed in black with a brown fur coat holding a pair of gloves and the pommel of a sword. Upon fleeing Germany before the outbreak of the war the Brombergs were forced to sell the work in Paris in 1938. It passed through the hands of several art dealers and was eventually sold to the Reich Chancellery for Hitler’s proposed Führermuseum in Linz.

When the war drew to a close, the portrait was one of over 60,000 works of art confiscated from France, which were recovered by Allied troops. Discovered in mines near Salzburg, the painting was returned to France in 1949. One of more than 2,000 works of art deemed to be orphaned, it was stored at the Louvre Museum from 1950-1960 and finally sent to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Chambéry. Only 107 of these orphan works have been reunited with their owners and the French government has been criticised for dragging its heels.

For the Bromberg family, the restitution process is imbued with more emotional than financial meaning. According to one relative, “the painting doesn’t even have to have any monetary value… It’s about connecting us to our past and the story of our family that was lost”.