LONDON (Dec. 7)
A painting by the artist Claude Monet is unlikely to be included in an upcoming London display of the artist’s 20th-century work because it is believed to have been looted by the Nazis from a private Jewish collection.
The Monet, currently part of an exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is one of more than 100,000 Nazi-looted artworks that have not been returned to their rightful owners, according to estimates by the World Jewish Congress’ commission on art recovery. The story of what happened to the Monet in the postwar years indicates how difficult the restitution of looted art truly is.
According to research carried out by the London-based Art Loss Register, the French Impressionist painting, called “The Waterlilies,” was confiscated from the Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg by the Nazis in 1941.
The Art Loss Register is a compilation of Jewish-owned artworks that were seized by the Nazis throughout occupied Europe. The Register currently lists some 3,000 such works.
After it was confiscated, the Monet, now valued at some $7 million, entered the personal collection of Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop, who had organized the systematic plunder of Jewish-owned art throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
Descendants of Rosenberg now want the painting to be returned and are considering their legal options, one of which involves a lawsuit that will prevent the work from leaving the United States.
The Rosenberg family, which lives in New York, identified the painting — one of 48 depictions of waterlilies that Monet executed in the garden of his home in Giverny, France — from a photograph of paintings that were owned by Paul Rosenberg.
The work is one of 58 paintings plundered from Rosenberg’s collection that the family has asked the Art Loss Register to trace.
Since it was recovered after the war, the work was held in trust by the Musee Nationaux de France and, since 1975, it has been in the care of the Musee des Beaux-Arts in the city of Caen.
Based on the provenance of the work, both the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which was hoping to include the painting in its exhibition, and the Boston museum are understood to have been aware that the work was among those recovered from the Nazis.
The director of the Art Loss Register, James Emson, stressed how difficult it is to determine a work’s true owner.
“It is important to remember that this is a very shady period of history,” he said. “We do know, however, that this painting was in the collection of Von Ribbentrop and that it was among the 40,000 items seized by the Allies and handed over to France at the end of the war.
“All but 2,085 were returned to their owners,” he added, “and the remainder were distributed for safekeeping to Paris and provincial museums.”