Saturday, July 17, 2010

Art Litigation: Artworks Stolen By U.S. Soldier Returned to German Museum

Image Wikimedia Commons via Art News - Heinrich Buerkel's Regenschauer in Garmisch

Art News and the AP report on the grand-niece of an American Serviceman who inherited 11 artworks and realized that they were stolen from a German museum and then decided to restitute them.

But unfortunately, the Art News piece claims: 

"it has emerged in recent years that Allied soldiers also stole work."

That is an absolute falsehood.   As Milton Esterow reported in November 16, 1964 front page article for the New York Times "Europe Is Still Hunting Its Plundered Art" discussed here, the U.S. State Department had recovered almost 4,000 stolen artworks in the U.S. from 1945 to 1962, many that were looted by U.S. servicemen.  The U.S. State Department, principally Ardelia Hall and the Roberts Commission warned U.S. museums and art dealers in the 1940's and 1950's not to acquire stolen art and gave a general amnesty to people returning stolen works.

Stolen art was a big deal in 1945 and 1946, getting lots of ink in the New Yorker (Janet Flanner's groundbreaking work), Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic and many other major publications.

It is unfortunate that for the last 60 years, the American museum community and art press feign perpetual surprise each time stolen works surface.   This collective amnesia is a national disgrace.  Tens of thousands of works stolen from murdered Jews or foreign museums are missing or were donated to an American museum in exchange for tax breaks and hidden in the basement. U.S. museums have shirked their ethical duties as set forth in the Washington Principles to research their collections and publish provenances of the works in their collections.  Let's not act shocked and surprised every time an American is caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Purchase Copyright Litigation Handbook from West here  

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