UK Government renews its commitment to return Nazi-looted art to rightful owners

21 July 2017
70 Years and Counting: Europe’s final opportunity?’ will be held on 12 September 2017 at the National Gallery London.  The Conference is organised by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Spoliation Advisory Panel and is sponsored by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.UK

UK Government Press Release 20 July 2017

 

Government renews its commitment to return Nazi-looted art to rightful owners

      Government calls for stronger efforts from the international community to return Nazi-looted art to original owners

     Government announces proposals to renew the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009

     Hundreds of experts to attend international spoliation conference in London in September

The UK Government will call for stronger efforts to return Nazi-looted art to its original owners at the first European conference dedicated to the issue in five years.

Hundreds of experts from the UK, Germany, France, Holland, Austria and across the globe will gather in London in September. The Conference ‘70 Years and Counting: The final opportunity?’ aims to strengthen partnerships, build greater cooperation on spoliation and examine how the process of returning stolen artworks can be accelerated.

The conference comes as the Government strengthens its commitment to these issues by announcing that it will seek to extend the UK’s Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act, which gives national museums powers to return works of art found to be looted during the Third Reich.

 John Glen, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism said:

“More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, some families are still waiting for their cultural property to be returned. We want countries from across the continent to help right this historic wrong.

“I hope this conference will raise awareness of this important issue and help to reunite people with their precious heirlooms. Our plans to renew the Holocaust Act underline our commitment to building a fairer society and we will do everything in our power to return Nazi-looted art to its rightful owners.”

The Act expires on 11 November 2019 and the Government will seek to renew the powers indefinitely.

It is estimated that 20 per cent of Europe’s cultural treasures were stolen or plundered by Nazi Germany, most notably from Jewish families, and over 100,000 of these works are still lost, presumed to be in both private and public collections.

The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, gave 17 UK national institutions, including the British Museum and the National Gallery, the power to return items lost during the Nazi era to their original owners or their heirs. Before the Act came into force in 2009, the governing rules of national museums prevented them from disposing of such items in their collections.

The UK is a world-leader in providing solutions to this issue and its national museums have undertaken detailed research of their collections to identify objects with uncertain provenance between the years 1933-1945. This research is held on the recently-upgraded online database available on http://collectionstrust.org.uk/cultural-property-advice/ which is actively maintained by editors from the 47 contributing UK museums, coordinated by Collections Trust on behalf of Arts Council England.

In 2000, the UK Government established the Spoliation Advisory Panel to examine claims for Nazi-looted art in British collections. Since then the Panel has advised on 20 such claims and 23 cultural objects have either been returned to families or they have received compensation.

Sir Donnell Deeny, who is joint Chair of the Spoliation Advisory Panel alongside Sir Alan Moses, said:

"It is only right that we offer fair and just solutions to those who lost art looted by the Nazis during and before World War II.

“The Panel has been an integral part of that process since the millennium and we welcome the Government's intention that it should continue. We also look forward to joining our European counterparts to discuss these issues and their significance for Europe and the rest of the world today in London this autumn.”

Anne Webber who is Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe alongside David Lewis, said:

“Almost 20 years since the commitments made by 44 countries at the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, little provenance research has been completed or published and few fair and equitable claims processes have been established.

Although many of the survivors are now passing away, their children and heirs still urgently seek the transparency, accountability and justice that was promised, and the restitution of what was taken and never returned. We welcome the UK government’s strengthening of its commitment to return, and its determination to renew and revitalise these international imperatives.”

Notes to editors:

1.      ‘70 Years and Counting: Europe’s final opportunity?’ will be held on 12 September 2017 at the National Gallery London.  The Conference is organised by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Spoliation Advisory Panel and is sponsored by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

2.     To register an interest in attending the event email internationalconferencelondon2017@culture.gov.uk

3.     The Spoliation Advisory Panel was established in 2000 to consider claims from anyone who lost possession of a cultural object during the years 1933 to 1945 and where that object is now in the possession of a UK collection.

4.     The Panel advises on what might be an appropriate solution in response to a claim and its advice is published in a report which is also laid before Parliament.  The Panel’s advice is not binding on the parties, though its advice has always been adopted by both parties thus far.  Where it upholds a claim, the Panel may recommend the return of the object or the payment of compensation.

5.   Planning for the Conference is being undertaken by a Spoliation Conference Working Group consisting of Clare Pillman (DCMS Director for Culture, Tourism and Sport and Group Chair), Sir Donnell Deeny (Chair of the Spoliation Advisory Panel), Tony Baumgartner (Deputy Chair of the Spoliation Advisory Panel), Anne Webber (Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe), Dr Antonia Boström (Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass, Victoria and Albert Museum), Mark Caldon (Senior Policy Adviser and Secretary to the Spoliation Advisory Panel), Margaret Passmore (Head of Freedom of Religion or Belief, Post-Holocaust, Human Rights and Democracy Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Nathalie Tamam (Chief of Staff, The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles, UK Post-Holocaust Issues Envoy).

6.   The Holocaust Act applies to the boards of trustees of the following 17 national institutions: the Royal Armouries; the British Library; the British Museum; the Imperial War Museums; the National Galleries of Scotland; the National Gallery; the National Library of Scotland; the National Maritime Museum; the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside; the National Museums of Scotland; the National Portrait Gallery; the Natural History Museum; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Science Museum; the Tate Gallery; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Wallace Collection.

 

 
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