A Dutch Museum Tells the ‘Hidden Story’ of Looted Art Works

A Dutch Museum Tells the ‘Hidden Story’ of Looted Art Works

A bit of boxwood sculpture, “Richly Dressed Lady,” provided on the European Fine Art Foundation’s annual truthful right here in 2020, was an actual discover for the Bonnefanten museum, recognized for its uncommon assortment of early Netherlandish items, together with its Renaissance artworks.

After the museum bought the work, a restorer did a radical cleansing, revealing the signature of its maker, Jan van Steffeswert, a woodcarver from the native area, Limburg. The museum was capable of date the piece to 1510, and proudly added the newly attributed Renaissance sculpture to its assortment.

But the little statue, a bit greater than seven inches tall, nonetheless had extra secrets and techniques to inform.

In 1938, “Richly Dressed Lady” was looted from the Rothschild household in Vienna, when the Nazis seized the Jewish household’s possessions. No one on the Bonnefanten knew this once they purchased it — and discovering out was a painful course of for the museum.

The boxwood statue is now on show on the Bonnefanten in “Art Adrift,” a present of some 20 works from the museum’s assortment. Each tells a “hidden story,” which has some connection to Nazi looting and artwork gross sales to Nazis, each voluntary and involuntary, round World War II, mentioned Jip van Reijen, the museum’s curator of outdated masters.

“Art Adrift,” which can run till Nov. 3, partly represents the museum’s effort to grapple with its personal complicated connection to looted artwork, and to name consideration to the complexities of restitution right now, almost 80 years after the struggle’s finish.

“We’re making an attempt to be as clear as potential,” mentioned the Bonnefanten’s director, Stijn Huijts. “Not to cover the truth that a few of these works have this historical past and to additionally present a few of the complexity that may be part of it.”

Tens of hundreds of artworks left the Netherlands throughout World War II through Nazi actions, together with confiscation and theft, in response to the Netherlands Art Property Collection, referred to as the NK Collection. Many ended up within the private collections of Adolf Hitler and the art-loving Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. After the struggle, the Allies discovered these items and others hidden in locations just like the salt mines of Altaussee, Austria, and labored to return them to their nations of origin.

In the Netherlands, a specialised company made efforts to search out the unique homeowners of the artwork that had been returned till 1951, and the remaining works went into the NK Collection. Then they got on mortgage to the state’s public museums.

The Bonnefanten turned out to be one of many major beneficiaries of the circumstances, Ms. van Reijen mentioned. At one level, mentioned Mr. Huijts, the museum had some 200 works on long-term mortgage from the NK Collection. Over the years, a quantity have been returned, however right now, the museum nonetheless has 132 work on mortgage from the NK, Ms. van Reijen mentioned.

“We actually rely so much on this assortment,” mentioned Ms. van Reijen, including that this artwork gave “the idea assortment of the outdated masters a little bit of physique, as a result of there was not so much in our personal assortment. So, we’re fairly intently knit to this NK Collection.”

The Bonnefanten hasn’t at all times been so forthcoming about its connection to Nazi looted artwork. In 2006, when the Dutch Restitutions Committee dominated for the restitution of 202 works to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a Dutch Jewish artwork seller whose stock was offered illegally to Göring, greater than 35 got here from the Bonnefanten’s partitions.

The museum’s director on the time, Alexander van Grevenstein, publicly opposed the choice, saying in interviews that the works had been “Dutch cultural heritage, in any case,” and demanded monetary compensation for the loss.

While acknowledging this historical past, the Bonnefanten’s present director mentioned the museum’s perspective is totally different right now. “It’s actually necessary that at any time when you’ve one thing in your custody that doesn’t belong to you, it ought to go to the rightful proprietor,” Mr. Huijts mentioned.

Ms. van Reijen mentioned she first took an interest within the museum’s potential hyperlinks to Nazi looting in 2022, after the Dutch nationwide newspaper NRC Handelsblad ran an investigative report about “Richly Dressed Lady.” It charged that the Bonnefanten had “made little effort to search out out” who the statue had belonged to, with a headline studying “The Museum Should Have Known.”

As it turned out, the statue had the truth is been returned to the Rothschilds after the struggle, they usually had offered it at public sale in New York in 1948. The Bonnefanten’s buy of the work at TEFAF was authorized, however nonetheless it served as a warning for Mr. Huijts.

“For us it was a really disagreeable expertise, as a result of on account of quite a lot of circumstances, we had not carried out sufficient provenance analysis,” he admitted. “We may solely say, the museum is guilty for those who don’t dive into it deeply sufficient.”

Ms. van Reijen, who’d simply began her job on the Bonnefanten when all this was occurring, determined to dive in. That was the genesis of “Art Adrift,” she mentioned. The museum additionally added new wall labels subsequent to many NK works within the everlasting assortment, which now additionally narrate their wartime historical past.

“Something occurred to all of those work and statues through the Second World War,” Ms. van Reijen mentioned. “It’s a really attention-grabbing story. We largely discuss the way in which that an paintings was made, however it has survived a whole lot of years, and it has gone by means of so much.”

Now, she mentioned, new Dutch guidelines require all museums to conduct thorough provenance analysis for any murals that modified arms from 1933 to 1945. The exhibition, she added, may additionally assist elevate consciousness.

“All of those works could be claimed,” Ms. van Reijen defined. “If you might be curious or see a portray and suppose, perhaps my grandmother had that someplace, you may make a declare. We need to actively contain individuals, so that they know the place to go looking.”



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