Art Restitution Updates

We have talked a little bit previously about art restitution in terms of the Benin Bronzes, the Monuments Men, and art theft. But, some news came out this week that I felt deserved its own post. As a quick recap, restitution is the act of returning a piece of art to its rightful owner. This can apply to looted art taken in the case of the Benin Bronzes from Nigeria or art stolen by the Nazis as they conquered Europe. There are large debates on this, especially in the museum world, about what should be restored. While, there is significant debate on more ancient objects like the Elgin Marbles in England, most institutions agree that if there is proof, stolen items by the Nazis should be returned to the descendants of the original owners.

Maria Altmann with Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt

Now you have probably heard about this either from us or from popular stories like the Woman in Gold (bad movie, half decent book, super interesting case). But those cases are normally concerned with one specific piece of art or maybe a few. This week, the Louvre announced some very investing news that puts it apart from its fellow major museums.

The Louvre in Paris, France

They announced the beginning of a 3-year project looking into all of the art the museum acquired between 1933 and 1945, aka the period right before and during WWII. Plus, the project is being sponsored by Sotheby’s and is expected to have public programming related to the project itself as well as digitization of resources.

This is a huge deal not only for the museum as they closely inspect their collection, but also for the Sotheby’s as this is “the auction house’s first formal partnership with a major institution on the restitution front.”

The Louvre began this process in 2020 when Emmanuelle Polack was commissioned to investigate some of the works in the collection during this time period. She identified ten works that had gone through collectors forced to flee Paris due to the Nazi occupation. In addition to these ten, 14,000 works will be eligible as part of the project to have their provenances examined. They are works that under the temporary care of the state, but are not legally owned by the Louvre’s public collection.

The only question that is not clear is what will happen after the project. Sotheby’s will not facilitate potential restitutions as part of the project so it is unclear still what will happen to works in need of restitution after the project is completed.

Whatever happens, it is going to be fascinating to watch this project process and see what potential precedents they set for the rest of the art world.

What do you think about all of this? Leave a note in the comments about it!


Read the full article from ArtNews here.

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