Founded After The War, Slow To Recognize Claimants Coming To Their Museums

Although Israel became a nation in 1948 -- after World War II --- the issues of Nazi-looted art are relevant there. Israeli private collections and those of the country's museums were largely formed after the war, and Israelis do not seem to have been more vigilant than dealers and collectors elsewhere. Nor have the museums been in the forefront of researching provenance and publishing it on their websites. To this day, the Israel Museum does not publish its provenance research although it gives some information for the items that are on the website. Over the years it has returned or reached settlements with other claimants who have approached the museum.

In 2008, the Israel Museum hosted an exhibition organized by the French Government and consisting of 53 of some 2,000 of its holdings of unreturned looted art. It was called “Looking for Owners: Custody, Research and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II.” However, at the insistence of the Israel Museum, a new law was passed prohibiting any claimant the opportunity to go to court in Israel to recover art stolen from them and discovered in the exhibition. In light of this, the show's title, “Looking for Owners…” is inaccurate.

The Israel Museum benefits greatly from friends organizations abroad, and many works of art given to the American Friends of the Israel Museum are on display there. An example of a provenance problem came with a gift of Camille Pissarro's Boulevard Montmartre, Spring. Bequeathed to the American Friends of the Israel Museum by John and Frances L. Loeb, New York philanthropists, it was discovered to have been looted by the Nazis from Max Silberberg. The Loebs acquired the painting in New York City in the 1950s. Clearly, they were unaware of its earlier ownership history when they willed it to Israel. After lengthy negotiations, the museum reached an agreement with Silberberg's only surviving heir, and the painting will remain in the collection of the Israel Museum. 

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre (Spring 1897)
A settlement was reached with the only surviving heir of industrialist Max Silberberg whose collection was looted and auctioned in Berlin by the Nazis.

Press & Scholarly