Moderator: Lauren Lessing, Art Institute of Chicago
Sponsor: Museum Division
Jack Perry Brown, Art Institute of Chicago
Nancy Yeide, National Gallery
Jennifer Tonkavich, Pierpont Morgan Library
Evie Joselow, Commission for Art Recovery
Jack Brown "A Topic of Timely Interest"
History of problem beginning with the Nazi power by decree. Nazi leaders had deep and conflicting ideas about art and a need to deprive certain classes of people of their art collections. Beginning 1933, Nazis felt a clear mandate to take all collections within their purview. Pressure is put on other nations to shape their own collection according to Nazi precepts. Some collections are removed through acts of state. Vast amounts of individual looting take place as well. A great deal of collusion between deals, other governments and Nazi collaborators.
After the war art was specifically mentioned as part of the restitution effort. Much was returned at that time, but much was not. Some unclaimed art found its way to national museums. A long period of apparent disinterest followed.
Now a new generation and the fall of communism has regenerated interest. Opening of Eastern European archives and publication of Lynn Nicholas' Rape of Europa has inspired increasing publication on the subject.
In 1998 the American Association of Museum Directors issued guidelines and agreed to attempt to return art to the rightful owners. Problems faced are numerous. Museum records are inconsistent and incomplete. The lack of staff and time has hindered progress in many museums. In some mediums, such as rugs, it is simply too difficult to determine ownership due to the general language used in original inventories and restitution records. These problems apply to current collection as well as new acquisitions.
Case study: A Courbet in the Collection of the Art Institute of
Chicago, that had been purchased in 1967, was known to have come from the
Silberberg collection. When heirs to that collection began to search
for their art work, the museum researched their collection and discovered
the Courbet. Before being approached about the piece, museum officials
contacted the dealer and contacted the lawyers for the claimant.
The intent to act fairly on the part of museums must be of foremost consideration.
Nancy Yeide "Don't Panic - Panic"
When faced with the AAMD guidelines, the speaker, who had spent 10 years as head of curatorial records, surveyed the papers of the collection beginning with the European Paintings. Gaps in provenance were located and a priority list was established based on suspicious names and particular collections. The research began as basic art historical research, then moved to more specialized sources. In the process, eight looted paintings were discovered, and each had been restituted to owners. Every case is unique.
Case Study: Luca Signorelli painting. Painting was from the Houdsticker
Gallery, a major victim of Goering's collecting activities. An inventory
of the gallery included the painting in question. Before the war
the collection was dispersed in many directions. Through exacting research,
the painting was found, through the Dutch Government, to have been in Miedl's
residence and was returned to Houdsticker's widow after the war.
Case Study: Frans Snyders Painting. Painted acquired by donor through a friend of the dealer, Karl Haberstock. It appeared in a Haberstock catalog in the 1960s. The big research puzzle was where Haberstock got the painting. Interrogations suggest that Haberstock got the painting from Goering. A list of Goering's Jeu de Paume acquisitions include a similar still life. The painting was viewed to possibly have been looted. Then, during the course of research a receipt turned up that made all previous research inconclusive. New research suggests that the painting may have come through a French dealer not known for dealing in looted art.
Each case is unpredictable and inconclusive. Research is complicated,
multidisciplinary, and dependent on people and cooperation.
The best advise is to follow AAMD guidelines, and check the following sources:
Jennifer Tonkavich "You are not in Control"
This speaker stressed her personal experience as a researcher in which her first instinct was to panic. Types of collections demand different tactics. A permanent collection can be processed systematically. A collection catalog requires that kind of systematic and thorough research. Loan exhibitions are more problematic as much funding and indemnity insurance requires clear provenance of all pieces in exhibition. Burden of research in on the lending institution. Borrowing from private collections is the most difficult problem. Records are nebulous, many collectors rely on their memories rather than paper files. Demand for privacy limits the number of people that can be involved. Many items that appear to have red flags will clear in the course of research. Private owners must be addressed cautiously to prevent offense. The Pierpont Morgan has had to substitute pictures to be on the safe side.
Practical Advice: learn the legal issues of the time of sale as well as what is currently legitimate; archival tools; secondary literature; auction sale catalogs (essential); photo archives, though using private archives may mean giving up control of information.
The tools we need most do not exist. Some resources are available only in other countries which may be more or less helpful. The same is true for resources in private hands.
Evie Joselow "Every case is unique"
The Commission for Art Recovery was established in November 1997 as part of the World Jewish Congress, and was fully staffed by June 1998. They have laid ground work for a database that would link lost art to found art, intended to be an internal database to ensure confidentiality. Every case is unique. The database can include a wealth of documentation or just memories. Claimants are looking for more than art. The Commission has created a provisional list of red flag names, customized to their clients, but appearance of a name on list is not a panic button, just a warning. The Commission works closely with individuals to determine exact nature of the work of art. Claimants help direct the search. All paths are followed, but not all puzzles are solved. The burden of proof is on claimant. If object is clearly stolen than the burden of proof is on the current owner. Information needs to be shared with loss of privacy. Methodology of research is art historical. Research is going to take a long time no matter what.
Case study: One item was found and ownership seemed clear. Claimant did not have pictures and did not believe that the found objects were the ones he was looking for. The Commission does not have the right to interfere. Emotions run very high is such searches.
Case study: Through diligent library research, including use of the Witt Library Picture Collection, two elderly women with great documentation and photos found a painting in North Carolina Museum of Art. The Museum has agreed to return the painting to the women.
Q. Do descendents have a right to claim work refused by elder member
A. Wrongful restitution is a whole other issue. Sometimes works have gone to the wrong part of the family.
Q. How do you protect anonymous donors?
Q. What about catalogs that just list "private collection" as part of provenance?
A. Museums research on their end without revealing names. Oral tradition or sticker on painting might lead to further information. Unfortunately, provenance research as it is done today is very recent.
Q. Do Museums have standards for loans?
A. Yes! Guidelines on restitution and indemnity issues.
Q. How do computerized records effect research?
A. Lost electronic data is not yet an issue. Computer databases can be a help or a hindrance. Museums use computers to store data, but also as information distribution tools, such as the Art Institute web site. No matter what, the record will not be complete. Rely on print sources most of all. There is a distinct need for a way for scholars to supply information to institutions as well.
Q. When do you have closure on a claim?
A. Difficult to say. The majority of claimants are heirs.
A. Museums will never have closure due to constant acquisition of art work.
Marcy Neth, Art Institute of Chicago