by Marc Masurovsky
|Applications for export pases for works of art, page 1
An innocuous list of works and objects of art has been widely available for study since historical records about art looting and restitution during the Nazi era become accessible either by on-site visits to leading archives or after their digitization on the platform known as fold3.com.
The list is entitled: “Applications for export passes for works of art.” All of the works which their owners have desired to export the Western Hemisphere were acquired in or came from areas known as “enemy territory.” This moniker targeted the following countries: Austria/Vienna, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland/Netherlands, France/Paris, “unoccupied France”, Romania.
The applicants submitted their export petitions from the following places: France, Lisbon, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland. They filed their export applications between 23/1/40 and 5/5/44, the vast majority having been submitted in 1941 and 1942, and only one in 1944.
The dates at which the objects were “taken from enemy territory” ostensibly to the places from which the export applications were then filed ranged from as early as 1934 and as late as 1941.
The objects themselves are a mix of works by Old Masters and 19th century French artists.
If we do our due diligence in a professional and non-judgmental way, all of these works need to be given extra scrutiny to eliminate any suspicion that they might have been misappropriated under Nazi rule aimed at Jews and their property. Many of the applicants’ names are well-known Jewish collectors who escaped from Europe or remained in neutral territories until the Nazi/Fascist dust had settled (Paul Graupe, Sommergut, Brunschnig, Francisca Heinemann, among others). Still, it’s worth asking about the provenance of works of art removed from Nazi Germany between 1934 and 1940, from Austria as of 1938, from France as of fall of 1940, out of Romania in 1941. With regards to the Netherlands, the objects were removed in 1938. That does not necessarily mean that their ownership history is completely clean since they could have been subject to illicit displacements in Germany and transferred to the Netherlands for sale to unwitting purchasers. We simply do not know. And that’s where research comes in handy.
A number of the works have interwar provenance information that removes the cloud (a Bauchant painting acquired from Jeanne Bucher in spring of 1940, a Bonnard acquired from the artist in 1940). But, as in the case of Paul Graupe while he was still in charge of an auction house in Berlin in 1935, one should be cautious because he did sell confiscated Jewish property. Therefore, a “Madonna with Child” attributed to Cima de Conegliano which Walter Wolf acquired from him in 1935 should be screened further. What about a Matisse painting acquired by André Weill “from Vollard” in May 1940? Vollard had died unexpectedly on the eve of World War II, and Martin Fabiani and Etienne Bignou, two notorious figures of the soon-to-be illegal art trade in German-occupied France, had imposed themselves as co-executors of the massive estate left by Ambroise Vollard? Should this object be reassessed based on the turbulent history surrounding the estate?
Even if all of these works ultimately pass the “plunder smell test”, we should keep in mind that the Roberts Commission and its tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, art historians and curators from distinguished American museums, did not have much information to go by when assessing the origins of these works before or after they entered the United States, except for the fact that they were the property of mostly well-established Jewish collectors in Europe who were fleeing for their lives from the neutral countries which they were able to reach.
When faced with such lists, don’t just dismiss them and assume that everything is fine. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. The snapshot of the objects’ trajectory that this 22-page list encapsulates becomes part of the object’s provenance or history in time and space and should be recorded as such.
|Applications for export passes for works of art, page 2