Back in the relatively early days of this blog, there was a lot of press coverage about the case of the painting belonging to Arthur Feldmann. Dr Feldmann was a Czech Jew whose paintings were seized by the Nazis. Eventually, some of his paintings ended up in the British Museum. The British Museum claimed that they wanted to return them, but couldn’t.
As a result of this, they brought a legal case, seeing if it was possible to over-ride the British Museum act. A lot of papers made out that the story that the case was about the Elgin Marbles, although this was more media spin than anything else. If you are not familiar with the case, I wrote a fairly lengthy analysis of it here. Some of the legal details from the case, which were not published until later are here.
Following the trustees of the British Museum losing the case (I’m not sure that anyone ever expected anything different), there were demands for changes in the law to handle such situations, although in reality, discussions relating to this aspect of Nazi loot restitution had already been going on for some time before that. These discussions were eventually incorporated into the law (after fairly long delays), in the form of the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution bill.
In the end, because the British Museum was not allowed to return the paintings, the heirs settled instead for financial compensation (something that was outside the scope of the British Museum Act).
That should have been the end of things, but it appears that it wasn’t. The paintings that were the subject of the earlier case were not the only ones in the museum, that the Feldmann Heirs claimed were rightfully theirs. Although the original case was dealt with by the Spoliation Advisory Panel. This most recent case was not though & was instead dealt with through direct negotiation with the museum (the reasons behind this are not given in the articles that I have read).
Young Couple in a Landscape, 1535-45, in the style of Georg Pencz
What is interesting, is that as I described above, the law now allows the British Museum to return Nazi loot. The Feldmann heirs were still happy to accept an ex-gratia payment though, in lieu of the actual artwork being returned. Once again, the reasons for this are unclear, but the fact remains, that even when the law allows is, not every restitution case is settled by the actual artefacts being returned.
In some cases, the rightful owners only want it acknowledged that they are the owners. In many instances, people accept that the museums are better placed to look after expensive works of art – often you do not want something like this in your home, due to issues with controlled humidity & temperature, security, insurance costs etc.
British Museum compensates collector’s heirs for art looted by Nazis
Family of Arthur Feldmann proved Gestapo had seized work of art in Czechoslovakia in 1939.
By Eitan Buganim
Oct. 17, 2013 | 2:15 AM
The British Museum agreed to compensate descendants of a Jewish art collector who owned a medieval German drawing in the style of Georg Pencz, which the Gestapo looted from his home with the rest of the family’s art collection in March 1939. The museum accepted a spoliation claim by collector Arthur Feldmann’s grandson, Uri Peled. It made an ex gratia payment that allows the museum to keep the drawing, “Young Couple in a Landscape,” painted around 1535-45.
The drawing had been acquired by the museum in good faith from Mrs. Rosi Schilling, in 1993. Peled, who lives in Tel Aviv, proved after extensive research that the drawing had originally belonged to his grandfather and was seized from him in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1939. Neither of the Feldmanns survived the war.
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