Good Policies But A Mixed Record
When the war was over, the Allied forces created a unit (Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives, the MFA&A) to find the art stolen by the Nazis. Find it they did—stashed away high in the Bavarian Alps, deep in the salt mines in Alt Aussee, Austria, and in other mountainous areas. The ancient practice of victors taking the "Spoils of War" was not accepted by the Allies, most of whom were members of an early 20th-century Hague Convention. Policy was to return art to the country where it had been taken, and in the case of Germany itself, the Allies returned the art that had belonged to German museums that had saved their collections from destruction as the battles and bombing hit home.
While the official policy of the United States was admirable, some individuals in the military helped themselves freely to what treasure they came upon. One G.I. sold two paintings by Albrecht Dürer taken from a German museum to a collector in Brooklyn (recovered in the 1980s in a landmark case, Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar v. Elicofon). Another G.I. marched into the cave supposedly guarded by US forces and made off with medieval treasure from the Church of Quedlinburg, sent it home to Texas, where it turned up after he died in the 1990s in the hands of his brother and sister who tried to secretly sell a magnificent Carolingian manuscript. (William H. Honan, Treasure Hunt). These cases are not unique.
The United States was prosperous after the war, and the art market thrived. Although the horrors of the war and the facts of art theft were widely known, and the U.S. State Department warned museums and dealers not to buy looted art, the art market generally chose not to look too closely for provenance problems. And so we find many cases, even today, where art in the U.S. is claimed by families of people prosecuted, sometimes killed, by the Nazis.
Edouard Manet, In the Conservatory
In hidden storage during the war, and found by the Monuments Fine Arts & Archives unit of the Allies who returned it safely to the Berlin Museums.
- Leone Meyer sues for Pissarro, Leone Meyer sued the University of Oklahoma et al. for the Camille Pissarro painting, "La Bergere Rentrant des Moutons," allegedly looted from her family during the Nazi occupation of France, in Federal Court., May 10, 2013
- Meyer v. University of Oklahoma - Complaint, May 9, 2013
- Seizure Warrant, November 8, 2011
- Complaint, November 8, 2011
- Civil Cover Sheet, November 4, 2011
- Provenance research
Press & Scholarly
Press & Scholarly
- Senate to hear testimony about lost art stolen by Nazis during World War II, Jennifer Harper, The Washington Times, June 6, 2016
- Bill would help families recover artwork looted by Nazis, Brian J. Tumulty, USA Today, June 6, 2016
- 'HEAR' Them Out, The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act aims to protect heirs' right to their inheritance, heritage., Alice B. Lloyd, The Weekly Standard, May 18, 2016
- Congress Moves to Spur Return of Artwork Stolen By Nazis, Adam Kredo, The Washington Free Beacon, April 8, 2016
- Cruz, Senators Introduce Bill to Help Return Art Stolen by Nazis, April 7, 2016
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was joined by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) yesterday to introduce 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. Complete text of the bill can be viewed HERE. CBS News also covered the bill HERE.
- Cleveland Museum of Art settles claim over Johann Liss drawing said to have been taken by Nazis from Feldmann collection, Steven Litt, May 26, 2013
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - Short-Form Diligence Questionnaire
- C�zanne Portrait seized by Russian Bolsheviks belongs to the Met, December 18, 2012
- Federal Agents Seize Painting Plundered By Nazis from Public Display in Tallahassee , Jim Turner, November 5, 2011
- Tallahassee Democrat Exclusive: Artwork stolen by nazis found in brogan exhibit, Doug Blackburn, September 8, 2011
- Illicit Cultural Property: An Amicable End to a Nazi-era Spoliation Claim, April 11, 2011
- Legal Issues Relating to the Recovery of the Quedlinburg - Treasures Legal Issues Relating to the Recovery of the Quedlinburg - Treasures, December 31, 1997
- Treasure Hunt: How a journalist helped crack the case of the missing medieval loot, Lynn H. Nicholas, July 20, 1997
- Kunstsammlungen Zu Weimar v. Elicofon, 678 F. 2d 1150 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, 1982