The National Gallery will be the first gallery or museum in the world to go through its collection to root out paintings with Nazi links. However its director, Neil MacGregor, said yesterday that even if any of the paintings were found to have been looted by the Nazis, they could not be returned to their rightful owners. He said: "In law we can't transfer title. So we can't give a painting back to an individual but the individual might want compensation."
The decision to investigate any painting whose provenance is unclear is the first step by British galleries to determinewhether any works might have been looted from Jewish families. Other galleries, including the Tate, the British Museum and leading regional galleriesare drawing up plans to sift through their collections.
Mr MacGregor said yesterday he thought it unlikely that many, if any, of the paintings would turn out to have been in Nazi hands. But after the "Nazi Gold" revelations of money looted from Jewish families, it was felt necessary to remove any doubt. He added: "Of the 2,400 paintings in the National Gallery, 470 have been acquired since 1933 and there are 120 where we can't be certain about their provenance.
"We are doing this so anyone who might have a claim can see what is in the National Gallery. But we should keep a sense of proportion; my hunch is thatonly very few works will turn out to be open to dispute."
On the 120-strong list are such works as Woman Drying Herself by Degas; Ophelia Among the Flowers by Redon and Picasso's Fruit, Dish, Bottle and Violin.
The change in attitude to the Nazi period over the past couple of years is illustrated by the example of Bosschaert's Flowers in a Vase, acquired by the National Gallery five years ago.
Its annual report from the time merely said that the picture had been bought in Switzerland "shortly after the Second World War".Reuse content