Swiss museum will remove 5 paintings potentially looted by Nazis

A Swiss museum said five artworks will be removed from public view as it collaborates with the owner of the artworks to investigate whether the works were looted by Nazis during World War II.

On longterm loan to the Kunsthaus Zurich museum from collection owner the Foundation E. G. Bührle (or Bührle Foundation) the paintings in question are Jardin de Monet à Giverny by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh’s The Old TowerLa route montante by Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet’s Portrait of the Sculptor Louis-Joseph and Georges-Henri Manuel by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

In a statement issued on its website, the museum said the Bührle Foundation requested the removal of the artworks as it assesses their provenance.

The renewed scrutiny comes as a result of the U.S. State Department’s latest best practices for handling Nazi-looted art, published in March. These expand the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art set forth in 1998.

“The Kunsthaus welcomes this stance, but very much regrets that, with respect to our visitors, five of the pictures are being removed from the Kunsthaus’ rooms by the current owner, the Bührle Foundation,” the museum said. “The Bührle Foundation is acting comprehensibly and correctly in accordance with the agreement with the city of Zurich and in accordance with the provisions of the permanent loan agreement.”

Twenty-five countries, including Switzerland, have so far endorsed the expanded U.S. State Department guidelines for dealing with Nazi-confiscated art. The new agreement follows the 1998 Washington Conference Principles, which focused on providing restitution to the families of the original owners for treasures that were either stolen or forcibly sold by Nazis.

“Restitution should be to all lawful beneficiaries and heirs in accordance with a country’s usual inheritance law,” the March 2024 guidelines state. “All pre-War owners who are identified through provenance research or their heirs should be proactively sought by the current possessors for the purpose of restitution.”

Hundreds of thousands of paintings and millions of books as well as cultural and religious artifacts were stolen from Jewish owners by Nazis in the Holocaust. Many have still not been returned to their rightful owners.


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