Cultural Personal Property and works of art
The looting of Cultural Personal Property (CPP) was instigated by the Reich Embassy in Paris. As of autumn 1940, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) was the primary tool in the implementation of this policy. France started haemorrhaging cultural works as a result of both looting and the many purchases that were being made on the art market by German museums and even individuals.
After the war, the French administration returned some of the works by means of the Artistic Recovery Commission (CRA) and in some cases offered compensation in accordance with the 1946 War Damage Act.
Between 1944 and 1949 the CRA returned 45,000 of the 100,000 works looted and had the Administration des Domaines (Land Office) sell just over 12,000 of them.
The Commission de Choix (‘Committee of Choice’, 1949-1953) retained 2,143 ‘MNR’ (Musée Nationaux Récupération, ‘National Museums Recovery’) works that were entrusted to French museums. These included some that had been spoliated and others that had been purchased under dubious circumstances by German and Austrian museums.
The German government also paid compensation for sumptuary goods in the framework of the 1957 and 1964 BRüG Acts.
Following a statement by President Jacques Chirac on 16 July 1995, a working party assessed the extent of Jewish spoliation in France and presented a specific report on the looting of art.
France contributes to efforts made to return spoliated cultural works to their rightful owners in accordance with the principles of the Washington Conference of 3 December 1998, the Council of Europe’s Resolution 1205 of 5 November 1999 and the Vilnius Declaration of 5 October 2000.
The CIVS is committed to seeking and proposing measures for repairing, returning and providing appropriate compensation for CPP.
Research undertaken by the CIVS
The complexity of the questions raised when reconstructing works’ provenance leads us to consult a diverse variety of sources. The primary domain for this research in France are the archives of the Office des Biens et Intérêts Privés (‘Office for Personal Property and Interests’, OBIP) and the Commission de Récupération Artistique (‘Artistic Recovery Commission’, CRA), maintained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), the archives of the Musées de France, the Archives Nationales and the Paris and departmental archives, in Germany the BRüG Act archives and various archives in the USA, Austria, the Netherlands, Great Britain, etc.
Research also draws on a number of online databases, including Rose Valland MNR (France), Errproject (USA), Fold3 (USA), Lostart Register (Germany), the Kunstmuseum database in Bern (Switzerland) for the ‘Gurlitt’ inventories, etc.
These investigations provide an opportunity to better assess the specificities of each case file and to suggest the most appropriate reparation measures.
In the absence of tangible proof resulting from its own investigations, the Commission may rule based on documents or testimony furnished by the applicant. It sometimes relies on a body of evidence that gives rise to a presumption of the existence of the property in question in the victims’ patrimony (their lifestyle, or their taking part in certain intellectual and artistic circles, for example).
The Commission rules fairly based on the documents produced, testimonies dating back to the time of the event and the inclusion of the works in question in catalogues raisonnés and inventories
and can make four types of recommendations:
In cases in which the property in question is included on the list of ‘MNR’ works (Musées Nationaux Récupération, (‘National Museums Recovery’) - add a link to the ‘The MNR Working Group’ page) and now forms part of the collections in the custody of national museums, said property is required to be returned. The activities of the CIVS are not a substitute for the on-going actions of the administration with regard to restitution and the application of international standards, but rather support it in its endeavours and the results it achieves. Claims must be filed in priority with the Archives departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Musées Nationaux. The matter may also be referred to the CIVS.
In the event that it is has not been possible to locate a work of art, compensation is provided based on the estimated and updated financial value of the work at the time of spoliation. The study is based on documents and testimony furnished by applicants, information found in archives and various books that record sales and provide auction prices for an artist’s works from 1935-1955. The evaluation of claims regarding works of art is a delicate and complex task since in order to estimate the value of a painting, it is not sufficient to simply attribute the work to the artist and to verify its authenticity. Research must also be conducted on its qualities and characteristics, such as state of preservation, format, subject, particular artistic quality and status in the art market (whether or not the painting or even its creator is in-demand in the art market). There is generally a lack of concrete documents and information on all of these factors.
Compensation for claimed works may have been paid in accordance with the BRüG German federal law. The distinctive nature of the reparation measures taken at the time in the case of claims regarding works of art lays in the fact that the value of the compensation awarded generally corresponded to 50% of the estimated damages. The Commission’s task consists of compensating for such deductions.
The Commission has no power to make binding recommendations concerning private entities or collectors that may have possession of works for which the origin of ownership is contested. This is also true for all foreign entities, regardless of their legal status.
The legal nature and flexibility afforded by its founding text means that the CIVS can also sometimes play a conciliatory role.