Launched at the initiative of Mr. Bernard Kouchner, Minister for Foreign and European
Affairs, and of Mrs Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture and Communication, this exhibition retraces the history of actions taken by the French government to restore to their rightful owners, the works of art and objets d’art pillaged by the German occupying forces in France during the Second World War. It aims to inform the general public, and the younger generations in particular, on the Nazi spoliations throughout the Second World War, how these were condemned by the Allies as early as 1943, the massive operations undertaken in the aftermath of the war to return what had been stolen and the new individual measures for restitution made possible in the past ten years.
The 53 works in this exhibition are part of the MNR collection (the National Museums Recoveries Register) which make up the remainder of the works and objets d’art of French origin recovered by the Allies in Germany after 1945 but which, having failed to find their legitimate owners, were entrusted to the custody of the Directorate of the Museums of France, Ministry of Culture and Communication, at the beginning of the 1950s (approximately 2,000 works out of 60,000 recovered).
The exhibition directly stems from the findings of the Working Party’s report on the Spoliation of Jews in France, known as the “Mattéoli Mission”. These findings recommended that “in order to bear witness to the spoliation, a few significant works, selected by agreement from among artworks held by the Recovered Artworks Registry (MNR), should be exhibited at the Museum of Israel in Jerusalem, with an explanatory notice as to their origin and the reasons why they were deposited with the Registry”. The searches undertaken by the Directorate of Museums of France under the aegis of the “Mattéoli Mission” have enabled an estimate that approximately 10 per cent of these works were stolen as a result of recognized spoliations from Jewish families without, however, it being possible to identify their original owners. The origin of the remaining 90 per cent is less well-known but in essence they correspond to works bought on the French art market during the Occupation by German museums or collectors, when many of the works in circulation were being sold under duress. They were re-taken as part of the policy to recover works of French provenance acquired by the German occupation. The works exhibited illustrate what we know today of this complex and painful story.
The list of the 53 works on show at the museum in Jerusalem will be published on the Israeli Justice Ministry website, accompanied by photographs and details of provenance, in order to enable any entitled person to assert his or her rights of ownership. This project has been developed and finalised with the full agreement and support of the Israeli authorities, not just the Museum of Israel but also of the Government and Parliament.
Any requests for restitution must be addressed to the Archives Department of the French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, with all the details required to enable identification of the ownership of the asset.
In November 1996 a complete illustrated list of the MNR was uploaded by the Directorate of the Museums of France on the Ministry of Culture and Communication website (www.culture.gouv.fr. The National Museums Meeting has also published part of these works in a 2004 catalogue, bringing together some 1,000 old paintings. An illustrated catalogue will be published to accompany this exhibition, available in two languages (French and English).
Source: Ministry for Foreign Affairs – www.diplomatie.gouv.fr