Berlin to step up research on 'Nazi art' restitution

21st November 2006, Comments 0 comments

21 November 2006, Berlin (dpa) - German culture officials vowed to step up research to settle Jewish restitution claims for dozens of valuable artworks, sold under duress in the Nazi era, at crisis talks Monday in Berlin. The meeting of museum chiefs followed a high-profile 38-million- dollar auction sale in New York this month of a key work of German Expressionism, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Berlin Street Scene. The 1913 painting was on display in Berlin's Bruecke Museum until August 1. There were protests i

21 November 2006

Berlin (dpa) - German culture officials vowed to step up research to settle Jewish restitution claims for dozens of valuable artworks, sold under duress in the Nazi era, at crisis talks Monday in Berlin.

The meeting of museum chiefs followed a high-profile 38-million- dollar auction sale in New York this month of a key work of German Expressionism, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Berlin Street Scene.

The 1913 painting was on display in Berlin's Bruecke Museum until August 1. There were protests in Germany after it was returned to Anita Halpin, the granddaughter of its former owner, Jewish art collector Alfred Hess, and sold to billionaire collector Ron Lauder.

The Nazis forced Jews to sell art treasures. In an oversupplied 1930s market, many were sold at bargain prices through dealers. Those sales are now being reversed as the art is discovered in museums or at auctions, sometimes after several more changes of ownership.

Bernd Neumann, junior minister for culture, said the restitution process had to be made "more transparent, more coordinated and more comprehensible."

"Germany is unreservedly committed to its moral obligation to restore art seized by the Nazis," he said. "There will be no watering down of this obligation."

Research into the provenance of art had to be improved and coordinated across Germany, he said.

The Jewish Claims Conference (JCC), which has managed most claims, said it was pleased that German public collections would now be combed for confiscated art. The JCC said there should be no expiry period for restitution.

Neumann said the aim should be to reconcile all parties and bring plain facts into what had become an emotional debate.

He said the Washington Declaration of 1998 was not being questioned but a 1999 joint declaration by Germany's federal, state and local governments and guidelines from 2001 would be reviewed to see if they were practicable and achieved conciliatory outcomes.

So far there are no firm numbers on how many artworks could be subject to claims.

Art gallery chiefs have voiced fears of an exodus of valuable paintings and sculptures from Germany and have suggested that some commercially motivated 1930s sales may also be unravelled to exploit the huge increase in the value of art in the past 70 years.

Prosecutors in Berlin who were asked to review the restitution of Berlin Street Scene ended their inquiry Monday, saying the restitution was entirely legal under the 2001 guidelines. The assumption of a 1936 sale under duress could not be disproved.

Experts estimate that German museums possess around 100 works by German Expressionists alone that are the subject of restitution claims, among them paintings by Kirchner and Franz Marc, a founder of the Blue Rider group.

Berlin's Prussian art commission, which preserves older art, said Monday it had a "handful" of contested artworks.

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DPA

Subject: German news

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