Art RestitutionOpinion

Another 70 years of missing art

Klaus Albrecht Schröder, the director of Vienna’s Albertina Museum, has told The Art Newspaper that there should be a limit on Nazi restitution claims. He said: “The international community should decide on a sensible time frame of 20 or 30 years from now. If we don’t set a time limit of around 100 years after the end of the Second World War, then we should ask ourselves why claims regarding crimes committed during the First World War should not still be valid; why we don’t argue anymore about the consequences of the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war, and why we don’t claim restitution of works of art that have been stolen during previous wars?”

His comments have angered many. A better question would have been: what can the international community do to speed up restitution?

It is now almost 70 years since the end of World War Two, but thousands of works have not been returned.

Even works stolen by the Nazis are identified the process of returning it is torturous. A few weeks ago descendants of dealers that had owned the Guelph Treasure sued Germany in a US court. In this case the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Limbach Commission have argued that the dealers received a fair price. It is extremely hard to see how Jewish dealers could get a good deal in 1935 – the year the Nuremberg laws were passed – but this was the decision taken by the commission last year.

The raid on Cornelius Gurlitt’s flat took place more than two years ago, and the task force has been reviewing cases for over a year, but still no works have been returned. Art Recovery Group’s Christopher Marinello says he has impeccable documentation and proof for Henri Matisse’s Seated Woman (he even has a photo of Paul Rosenberg standing in front of the work) but is still having to chase for Rosenberg’s descendants. The owners have waited long enough.

The international community needs to do more. Looted art is a problem for everyone. At least $1 billion of art work is affected – if you cannot prove ownership, art is effectively worthless – and it time to speed up restitution.

The looting of art that has taken place in parts of the Middle East during the last few years is even more depressing when you consider how long it will take to return it.

If it takes a long to resolve ISIS-looted works as Nazi-looted art, most of these pieces will not be seen again this century.

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Alasdair Whyte

Alasdair Whyte

Alasdair is a financial journalist writing about art. He has focused on high value asset finance since 1998. As well as Private Art Investor, he also edits Corporate Jet Investor (despite knowing very little about aircraft) and Helicopter Investor (ditto).