Swiss art museum reviews collection for Nazi-looted pieces

The museum Kunsthaus Zurich said it would like to see an independent commission set up in the country to tackle the issue of confiscated art by Nazi Germany during World War II.

They launched a review to clarify whether any of the artworks in its collections might have been looted by the Nazis.

In the meantime, Ann Demeester, the museum’s new director, has said that the institution would set up its own international commission of independent experts this year.

“(We must) enable just and fair solutions where there are substantiated indications of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution,” said Philipp Hildebrand, chair of the Zurcher Kunstgesellschaft, the art organization that owns the collection and oversees Kunsthaus Zurich.

“Our overriding objective must always be to review professionally the origins of the works we hold,” said Hildebrand. “We are aware that this will be a lengthy and complex process.”

Kunsthaus Zurich faced international criticism back in 2021 when it opened a new wing of the museum to house the collection of arms dealer Emil Buhrle, who is well known for making his wealth during World War II.

The Buhrle Foundation confirmed that 13 paintings the German-born industrialist bought had been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners in France during the war.

Buhrle returned all 13 pieces to their rightful owners after a series of court cases following the war in the 1940s. Buhrle repurchased nine of the pieces, the foundation said.

Following the Buhrle outrage, the museum’s recently appointed director said Kunsthaus Zurich needs to be proactive and transparent when it comes to its own research.

“As a museum, we bear a great social responsibility,” Demeester said. “Just as important as the research itself is what we do with the results.”


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