Museum must give Nazi art loot back to its rightful owners

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The Independent Online

The Government ruled yesterday that an 18th-century painting which ended up in a British museum after being looted by the Nazis almost 70 years ago should be returned to the family of its rightful owner.

The Government ruled yesterday that an 18th-century painting which ended up in a British museum after being looted by the Nazis almost 70 years ago should be returned to the family of its rightful owner.

The still-life oil painting, entitled Le Pate de Jambon , which has been attributed to the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, has been part of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow since 1936.

Last year, Glasgow City Council's repatriation group recognised the work as "Nazi loot" and referred the request for its return to the Government for possible repatriation or reparation.

It is understood that six relatives of the original owners, who wish to remain anonymous, provided legal documents proving the work was sold by their ancestors - who ran a gallery in Germany - in 1936 to raise money for a bogus tax bill imposed by the Nazis.

The gallery owners were forced to hold a two-day "clearance sale" on 17 and 18 June that year, during which the painting was sold for 7,000 reichmarks (£560).

Four days later, Sir William Burrell, a respected art collector who is believed to have been unaware of painting's circumstances, bought the work from German art dealer Julius Bohler for £647. It was donated to the Corporation of the City of Glasgow by Sir William and his wife in 1944, with conditions prohibiting the "sale, donation or exchange" of any object in Sir William's collection.

Yesterday, the Spoliation Advisory Panel (SAP), which was set up to help resolve claims by people - or their heirs - whose cultural property, lost in the Nazi era, recommended that the painting should be returned to the relatives, who live in Germany and the USA.

"It is important that questions of ownership arising from the Nazi era are resolved," said the Arts Minister, Estelle Morris.

"I believe that the panel's recommendation is the most appropriate way to proceed. The British public would be unhappy to know that a museum in this country contained a work which had been separated from its rightful owners."

Last night, a spokesman for Glasgow City Council welcomed the move, but warned that there could be a delay while legal conditions imposed on the gift were resolved.

The council had hoped that the SAP would back a compromise and offer the family monetary compensation for the painting, valued at around £7,000.

"This council has always been very open in requests for return of objects in our collection, with the Lakota Sioux Ghost Dance Shirt and the return of human remains to the Maori community in New Zealand being prime examples."

There has been one other spoliation claim in Britain, against a work in the Tate Gallery in London. The heirs of the owner, who was shot by the Nazis, received a payment of £125,000 instead of its return.

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