Marc Masurovsky and the Struggle for Restitution

Paris, 26 November 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA). Marc Masurovsky, art historian and co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP), has centred his research on the issue of goods which were stolen during the Second World War. He is one of three authors of the book Oeuvres volées, destins brisés (2013), based on the various stories of collections of artworks belonging to Jews which were seized by the Nazis. Art Media Agency met with Masurovsky, who spoke to us about his book, his ethics and morality in general. Could you tell me a bit more about yourself and your job? I was born in Paris, and I took my Baccalauréat at the École Alsacienne, after which I went to the United States to study at the University of Washington, where I am currently living. I developed an interest in issues linked to the Holocaust when I was in my twenties, then I started a job at the Ministry of Justice with a focus on war criminals. From there, I began researching the financial and commercial side of the Holocaust and the Second World War. It was during this time that I really started to focus on art theft; goods which were illegally seized in Europe and worldwide. In fact, it was while working for my PhD that I became particularly interested in matters concerning spoliation. What first interested you about the seizure of goods? I don’t know, I think it is a combination of things. I first entered into the subject through enquiries that I was making into war criminals in the United States. I spent my entire childhood in Paris so I suppose I had a fundamental awareness of it, as did lot of my friends whose families had been in the Resistance or victims of the war. That all played...

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Doubtful origins of artworks dating from the Second World War

The Hague, 7 November 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA). A survey which has been carried out in a large number of Dutch museums revealed, on 29 October 2013, that 139 of their works were stolen or seized by Nazis during the Second World War; the works are thought to have belonged to Jews. Around a quarter of the 162 Dutch museums who took part in the survey on the acquisition of artworks between 1933 and 1945 house pieces which have a “potentially problematic history”, according to the Netherlands Museum Association. Included among these objects of doubtful origin are 13 Jewish ritual objects, 24 drawings, 31 pieces of decorative art, 69 paintings and two sculptures. The website www.musealeverwervingen.nl is offering visitors to find missing information related to the artworks. The project’s director, Siebe Weide announced that “It was no easy task, but our museums always realised the importance of the research. The fact that much time has passed since the end of the Second World War should not be a reason not to do the research”. The man also stated that, where possible, the association is using the website to try to find and contact the heirs of the original owners. The names of the original owners have already been attributed to 61 of the...

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Drawing by Egon Schiele endangering gallery owners and collectors of New York

New York, 10 May 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA). A drawing by Egon Schiele, Seated Woman with a Bent Left Leg (Torso), dating to 1917, has been the subject of a judicial proceeding  since 2005. The outcome of this case may result in difficulties for collectors and gallery owners in New York. Journalist Gareth Harris discussed the case in an article published on The Art Newspaper’s webpage. The case concerns works stolen from Jewish art lovers by the Nazis. One painting belonged to Fritz Grünbaum, a Viennese collector. Now owned by David Balakar, an American collector, who bought it in good faith from the St. Etienne Gallery of New York in 1963, the painting is claimed by two heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, Czech Milos Vayra and New Yorker Leon Fisher. These two individuals maintain that the work was stolen by the Nazis in 1938, before its owner was sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he was murdered in 1941. Meanwhile, Balakar maintains that the drawing belonged to Mathilde Lukacs, Grünbaum’s sister-in-law, until 1956, the year that she sold it to the Swiss art dealer Eberhard Kornfeld who almost immediately sold it to the St. Etienne Gallery. Until now, owners facing the same situation as David Balakar were protected by the laches doctrine, which stipulates that belated return requests are inadmissible when the time which has elapsed represents a handicap for the defence of the work’s owner. In other words, a work bought in good faith has strong chances of not being returned. However, Grünbaum’s heirs want the prescription deadline to start not when the rumored theft took place but when they knew about this theft. The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), the Society of London Art Dealers (SLAD) and London art dealer Richard Nagy recently shared their concern...

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Exhibition on Jewish emigration from 1920s Berlin

Berlin, 20 March 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA). The Jewish Museum in Berlin will display from 23 March to 15 July 2012 an exhibition entitled “Berlin Transit”. The exhibition deals with the emigration of Jews from Western Europe during the 1920s. Following the Russian Revolution, the pogroms and the civil war in Ukraine, 10,000 Jews were forced to flee to Western Europe. Their trips, long and hard, sometimes lasted more than two years. Their first haven was the German capital. Berlin therefore became, for a decade, the centre of Jewish migration and culture. The exhibition samples are extremely varied: abstract works, photographs, paintings and also private items from Jewish families. These stories show the different fleeing paths and the émigré’s origins. The movie Die Pogrome der Juden in der Ukraine (pogroms of Jews in Ukraine) shows the brutal violence Jews suffered in Ukraine in 1919. The exhibition is a cooperation of the research project on the Jewish emigration of the 20s and 30s by the Institute of Western Europe of the University of Berlin and of the Jewish Museum Berlin...

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