Netherlands Museum Association reveals results of ‘looted art’ investigation

The Netherlands Museum Association has revealed that a total of 139 objects from 162 museums have been identified as either having been looted, confiscated or sold under duress between 1933 and 1945 by the Nazis.
This is the main conclusion of a major four-year study into the provenance of works of art in Dutch museums during this period. The idea for the project grew out of an investigation launched in 1998 assessing acquisitions by institutions during 1940 and 1948.
After making startling findings for this period, researchers were inspired to dig deeper and further back in time. It was only logical given that the persecution of Jews under Nazi rule had its origins in the immediate months following Adolf Hitler’s ascension to chancellor of Germany.
“The Museum Acquisitions from 1933 Onwards investigation touches on the core of what museums do, namely studying their collection and telling its story to the public,” commented Siebe Weide, director of the Netherlands Museums Association.
“This was not an easy undertaking, but the museums never lost sight of the importance of this investigation. The fact that so much time has elapsed since the end of the second world war should never be a reason for not conducting research on provenance. Accordingly, in the past years Dutch museums have done everything in their power to chart the origins of their collections.”
A website has now been set up, outlining the provenance of every one of the 162 objects found to have “potentially problematic” and dubious backgrounds. Amazingly, 61 of these works of art have been directly linked back to their original owners, while unfortunately, 78 remain in an as of yet ambiguous position.
It is not known, for example, whether these objects were looted or ‘relinquished voluntarily’, which is why this website is so important – it is one effective way of establishing their true history so that where they were taken against a person’s will, efforts can be made to restore them back to the owner’s heirs.
“We are fortunate to now have a website with all of the available information about works in museums with a potentially problematic provenance,” said Jet Bussemaker, Dutch minister of education, culture and science.
“This honours those who were victimised in this respect during the second world war and is part of the responsibility we assume to chart the provenance of our public art collection with transparency.”
The association said that it makes every effort to get in touch with the relevant parties where a solid link with the past has been made. For the remaining works of art whose history is still unclear, anyone who legitimately believes it belongs to their family can make a claim to the museum in which the work is currently housed.
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