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New Research Perspectives for Stolen Cultural Assets in Occupied Paris

The German Lost Art Foundation hosted a Franco-German conference focused on the case of cultural assets seized during the German occupation of Paris (1940-1944)

September 03rd, 2018
Olimpia Buhai, News from Berlin

While cultural diplomacy appears to be present and future-oriented, throughout the activities led by many different organizations, governments or embassies, it can also be led to play a role in solving delicate issues from the past, such as the theft and trade of cultural assets in Paris under German occupation.

On January 1st 2015, the German Federal and State governments as well as leading municipal associations established the “German Lost Art Foundation” or “Deutsche Zentrum Kulturgutverluste.” It is a civil-law foundation with headquarters in Magdeburg, Germany, based on the Washington Principles of 1998, which represent a moral and ethical, but non-binding declaration according to which the participating countries pledge to search for Nazi-confiscated cultural assets, create corresponding registries, and take the necessary steps to reach just and fair solutions. These cultural assets are broadly defined as an items of historic, artistic or other cultural or identity building significance.

The German Lost Art Foundation views itself as the national and international contact for matters concerning the illegal confiscation of cultural assets in Germany in the 20th century, with a focus on Locating and identifying cultural assets seized by the Nazi regime, but also investigating the loss of cultural assets under the Soviet occupation as well as in the GDR.

Every autumn, the German Lost Art Foundation hosts a specialist conference. Last year, French and German experts delivered lectures on the subject of systematic art theft in France, reviewing the results of research performed on this topic in both countries under the heading “Theft & Trade. The French Art Market under German Occupation (1940-1944)”.

From November 30th to December 1st 2017, the German Lost Art Foundation hosted the conference “Theft & Trade. The French Art Market under German Occupation (1940–1944)”. The bilingual event brought together international experts from France, Germany and other countries who presented the findings of their research on cultural assets, on the art market and its stakeholders in occupied Paris.

Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956) was one of the dealers who bought works of art in Paris between 1941 and 1944 during the German occupation, often on behalf of Hitler for his planned museum in Linz. A thriving and dynamic trade sprang up in Paris. The conference created a thematic focus with the presentation of new research findings on Gurlitt’s acquisitions in France. The conference was designed and held in close collaboration with the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris (German Art History Forum Paris) and the Forum Kunst und Markt (Centre for Art Market Studies).

The conference, held in both German and French languages, explored issues such as the identity of the stake-holders and the despoiled, the way in which Nazi policies, art history expertise and market interests meshed, and the modus operandi of the art market. The conference created also focused on new research outcomes on acquisitions by Hildebrand Gurlitt in France. Additionally, works of art from the so-called “Schwabing Art Trove” were introduced in the exhibition “Dossier Gurlitt. Nazi Art Theft and its Consequences”, which ran at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle Bonn at the same time.


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