August 2, 2005

Changes to the law planned following Feldmann case

Posted at 8:35 pm in Similar cases

Finally statements are emerging from the British Government about the long overdue changes to the law to allow artefacts looted by the Nazis to be de-accessioned from Britain’s museums & returned to their rightful owners. Clearly this planned change in the law is as a direct follow up to the recent court case that ruled that it was not possible to over rule the British Museum Act without a change in the law.
While this is all very positive, I still can not understand the logic behind a law that will treat events that occurred during one specific period in history differently from those that happened during any other – cases end up being judged not on their validity, but on when they occurred. To me (while I can see why the museum’s are pushing for the change to take this form) this is complete nonsense – If two people had items stolen, but for one the items were stolen by someone French & for the other they were stolen by an Italian (assuming all other circumstances were the same) then would one case be more deserving than the other?

BBC News

Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
New look at Nazi looted art law
Four Old Master drawings looted by the Nazis could be returned to their original owner by the British Museum under proposed changes to legislation.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is reviewing the law to make such returns legal.

Consultations on the legislation – which will be limited to items taken between 1933 to 1945 – will begin soon.

The drawings, worth about £150,000, were stolen from Czech lawyer Arthur Feldmann, who was killed by the Nazis.

The British Museum bought the drawings for nine guineas – then worth about £9.45, now about £250 in today’s money – in 1946.

The museum wants to return the works to the Feldmann family, but in May the High Court ruled it would be breaking the law if it did so.

The court said “moral obligations” could not over-ride the British Museum Act, which protects the collection.

It is five years since the Culture Select Committee first called for a change in legislation and the DCMS said consultations would begin in the near future.

Any change in the law would be significant for all claimants of looted art from the Nazi era, including items already earmarked by the Spoliation Advisory Panel.

The panel was set up in 2000 to trace the ownership of art allegedly seized from Jewish owners before and during the Holocaust.

‘Unacceptable’ delay

In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle on Thursday, Culture Minister David Lammy said: “In the very special and limited circumstances that apply because of the terrible things that happened during this era of our history, we should change the law. And we should do so as soon as we can.

“Broadly I believe that all our national museums and galleries should have a power to transfer items out of their collections where the item in question has been looted during the Nazi era.”

He added that a “number of questions” had to be answered before legislation can be drawn up and Parliamentary time requested to enact it.

Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said that while consultation was necessary, it was “essential” that legislation was enacted without “further delay”.

“It is over 60 years since these wrongs were committed and any further delay would add to the pain of the families involved,” she said.

“The commission has been advocating this policy since 2000 at which time the government first stated its support for legislation. This is an extremely significant commitment which puts Britain back in the forefront of international policy on these issues.”

The drawings in question are from the 16th to 18th Centuries. They are:

  • Niccolo dell’Abbate’s Holy Family
  • Martin Johann Schmidt’s Madonna and Child
  • St Dorothy with the Christ Child by a follower of Martin Schongauer
  • An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo by Nicholas Blakey
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