Menu JTA Search

Russia catalogs artwork lost by Nazi looting during war years

LONDON, July 8 (JTA) — Officials in Russia and Scotland are confronting the issue of Nazi-looted art. Moscow has responded to demands by Jews and by Germany for the return of looted wartime artworks by producing an initial three-volume catalog of its own looted treasures. This is the first Russian attempt to quantify the extent of their cultural losses from museums, galleries and palaces during the Nazi invasion. When it is completed the catalog of looted Russian artworks — including icons, paintings and other objets d’art — is expected to fill some 50 volumes. In a foreword to the catalog, the Russian authorities tell claimants that “the West, and particularly Germany, prefers to keep silent about Russia’s cultural losses. They would not acknowledge our rights of compensation for the irreplaceable losses. “Without a catalog it is impossible to discuss the problems of restitution on just and civilized grounds.” Even with the catalog, however, the Russian authorities admit they will be unable to make a full account of their plundered art because the Germans not only emptied their museums but were also careful to removed inventories. The foreword notes that “a whole stratum of Russian national culture has disappeared forever, without leaving a trace.” After sending the catalogs to museums, libraries and auction houses abroad — and also to Interpol — Russian officials say they hope that some of their treasures may eventually be restored. In Scotland, meanwhile, the nation’s galleries are concerned about the provenance of 133 works, according to researchers who are attempting to determine whether any works in the Scottish collections were looted by the Nazis. The galleries — Scotland’s National Gallery, its National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art — have not established that any of the works were stolen. But they are contacting dealers to discover more about the history of 133 works that have been acquired since 1933. A spokeswoman for the galleries said almost 50,000 works have been examined. “The number we are concerned about is a preliminary figure,” she said. “The problems with them may merely reflect the fact that a file has been lost or that an owner died suddenly, breaking the provenance.” The spokeswoman rejected criticism from the Holocaust Educational Trust that the galleries have been slow to publish the list of works and she insisted they are working as fast as possible. “The national galleries of Scotland fully recognize the sensitivity and urgency of the issue of Nazi-looted art which is precisely why this research is being undertaken,” she said. Earlier this year, the National Gallery in London concluded that 120 of its 2,400 paintings were of doubtful provenance. There are strong suspicions that about 10 of these, including two Monets, may be looted. Sir Nicholas Serota, director of London’s Tate Gallery and chairman of a panel looking for Nazi-looted art, plans to convene a meeting later this month of more than 20 museums and galleries to assess how many suspect artworks are held in Britain.

NEXT STORY