The Louvre Museum is putting 31 paintings on permanent display in an effort to find the rightful owners of those and other works of art looted by Nazis during World War II, according to published reports on Thursday.
The iconic Paris museum opened two showrooms last month to display the paintings, which are among thousands of pieces of Nazi looted artwork in France between the years of 1940 and 1945. More than 45,000 objects have been handed back to their rightful owners since the war, but more than 2,000 remain unclaimed, including 296 paintings stored at the Louvre, according to a report on World Israel News.
Sebastien Allard, the head of the paintings department at the Louvre, told the AP in an interview that “These paintings don’t belong to us. Museums often looked like predators in the past, but our goal is to return them. The large majority of the retrieved artworks have been plundered from Jewish families during World War II. Beneficiaries can see these artworks, declare that these artworks belong to them, and officially ask for their return.”
The paintings in the new showrooms are from various artists of different eras, including a remarkable landscape from Theodore Rousseau, “La Source du Lizon.”
Other more famous looted works have already been displayed in the museum, but visitors did not necessarily know they had been stolen by the Nazis. In museums, pieces of art retrieved by the French authorities are identified with the label “MNR,” French initials for National Museums Recovery.
“We needed to draw attention further to the matter and raise public awareness,” said Allard. “We thought it was important to highlight the specific case of these works, which are not listed on our inventories.”
The Louvre initiative is the latest effort by French authorities to find heirs of families who lost their artwork. A working group set up by the Culture Ministry is in charge of tracing back the origins of the art and identifying owners. But it’s a long and laborious task: only some 50 pieces have been returned since 1951.
At an event in Berlin leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Washington Principles, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder on Thursday underscored the large gap between promised improvements in reference to Nazi-looted art and actual actions in Germany. In his speech, Lauder called on both government officials and private collectors to do more than just the bare minimum to solve the issue of Nazi-looted art.
“I’m afraid our topic tonight, Nazi-looted art, the Washington Principles, and the fact that we are still dealing with this topic, 73 years after the end of World War II, is simply not acceptable. It diminishes the honor of Post-War Germany,” Lauder said to a broad audience of government officials and art scholars assembled at the Axel Springer Building.
“We are not just talking about restituting art. We are talking about restituting history. We are talking about historical honesty. Historical justice.” Although Nazi-looted art is not just a German problem, Lauder added, “there are obvious reasons why Germany should be at the forefront of solving this issue.”
“It is so easy to promise to do the right thing, and I appreciate everything that was initiated by State Minister Naumann and continued by his successor, and today by State Minister Grütters, but can we please see more results?” Lauder asked. “The huge gap between official announcements and actual deeds must end.”
In his speech, Lauder urged that the half-hearted reform of the Limbach Advisory Commission must be completed, more money be spent, and the publication of museum’s holdings and corresponding provenance information on their websites. “What should have been done during the lifetime of the survivors, must not be passed on to yet another generation.”
Back in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was joined by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in introducing the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which facilitates the return of artwork stolen by Nazis during the Holocaust to their rightful owners or heirs. The HEAR Act would ensure that claims in the United States to Nazi-confiscated art are resolved in a fair and just manner on the merits, and are not barred by state statutes of limitations and other procedural defenses. Doing so is consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy, as expressed in the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the Holocaust Victims Redress Act, and the 2009 Terezin Declaration.
“The phrase ‘never forget’ is more than a slogan,” said Sen. Cruz at the time. ‘Never forget’ means working to right all the terrible injustices of the Holocaust, even if many decades have passed. The HEAR Act will empower the victims of this horrific persecution, and help ensure that our legal system does everything it can to redress the widespread looting of cultural property by the Third Reich as part of its genocidal campaign against the Jewish people and other groups.”
Here are additional details about the bill:
During the Third Reich, “the Nazis stole hundreds of thousands of artworks from museums and private collections throughout Europe, in what has been termed the ‘greatest displacement of art in human history.’”
When World War II ended, the United States and its allies attempted to return the stolen art to their countries of origin, but despite these efforts, many pieces were never reunited with their owners or heirs.
The American government has long worked with other nations to ensure that victims and their families are able to recover art tragically stolen by the Nazis.
The HEAR Act would ensure that claims to Nazi-confiscated art are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations and other similar procedural defenses but are instead resolved on their merits.
To do this, the bill creates a six-year statute of limitations for claims to recover art that was unlawfully lost due to theft, seizure, forced sale, sale under duress, or the like because of racial, ethnic, or religious persecution by the Nazis or their allies during the period from January 1, 1933, to December 31, 1945.
The limitations period commences upon “actual discovery” of (1) the identity and location of the art that was unlawfully lost, and (2) information or facts sufficient to indicate that the claimant has a possessory interest in the art.
The six-year limitations period under this bill applies to any claim that (1) is pending on the date of enactment, including any claim that was dismissed before enactment based on a time-based procedural defense but is on appeal, or (2) is filed after enactment but on or before December 31, 2026. Claims filed after that date will not have the benefit of the HEAR Act limitations period.
The HEAR Act preempts any other applicable federal or state statutes of limitations.