On February 15, Parliament has definitively adopted the bill relating to the return or restitution of looted works of art to victims of spoliation. After a vote by the National Assembly on January 25, the Senate voted in favor of this text on February 15. The text may be consulted on the following the Official Journal’s website. The CIVS behind this legislative initiative welcomes the rapid and unanimous adoption of the text by Parliament.
In summer 2020 the Commission underlined the need for a legislation to allow the removal of looted artworks from public collections. In his Report addressed to the Prime Minister, the President of the CIVS also recommended the adoption of such a bill, which alone “will make it possible to meet the requirement of memory, justice and efficiency” expected.
The bill will make it possible to return fifteen works from public collections – fourteen from the national collections, and one from the collections of the city of Sannois – looted by the Nazis from their Jewish owners, or acquired by the State during the Occupation in troubled conditions. The CIVS has recommended to the Prime Minister to return thirteen of them (the two other cases fell outside the scope of its jurisdiction) and has identified the heirs to whom they should be returned.
This text is therefore the culmination of its work – with the services of the Ministry of Culture – and concretizes the reorientation taken by the Commission in 2018 in favour of looted works of art.
Why a law?
In France, heritage law does not allow works to be removed from public collections, even if their spoliation is proven, that is due to the inalienable nature of these collections. While provenance research carried out by the Mission de recherche et de restitution des biens culturels spoliés entre 1933 et 1945 (Ministry of Culture) and by some museums reveals spoliated works in public collections, French law only allows the removal of these works only by law. The Heritage Code lacks a legislative provision that would create an exception to the principle of inalienability and facilitate the removal of works from national and territorial collections once the spoliation is proved. France has not yet adopted such a provision, which is why a law is still needed to return works that have entered the public domain. This law is a historic first. Until then, no text had provided for the return of looted property belonging to public collections.
After its entry into force, the administration will have a maximum of one year to return these works to their rightful owners.