French Senate finalizes measures to return Nazi-looted artwork to owners

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The French Senate has approved the return of 15 works of art looted from Jews during World War II, the latest step in a process that began in the National Assembly in January. This decision will open the door to new restitutions.

It is the first time in 70 years that the French government has taken serious measures to return works of art “which were acquired in troubling circumstances during the occupation due to anti-Semitic persecution”, said the French Minister of Health. Culture, Roselyne Bachelot.

Legislation allows public museums to return works to the heirs of the original owners.

One of the 15 paintings in question is Rosebushes under the trees by Gustav Klimt, the only painting by the Austrian master belonging to the French state.

It was acquired by the Orsay Museum in 1980, although research revealed that she had been forcibly sold by Austrian collector Eleonore Stiasny in Vienna in 1938, before being deported and killed.

Among the other works of art, 12 are held by the Orsay, the Louvre and the museum of the castle of Compiègne, as well as a painting by Maurice Utrillo preserved in the Utrillo-Valadon museum in the northwest of Paris.

An amendment to the legislation in January added a painting by Marc Chagall housed in the Pompidou Museum.

The Senate approved the bill after it was passed by the National Assembly in late January.

It now requires the signature of President Emmanuel Macron to enter into force.

Bachelot said the legislation is the “first step” in returning objects “still held in public collections – objects that shouldn’t and never should have been there”.

Tens of thousands of paintings were looted or forcibly acquired during the Nazi occupation of France, and have since been held in custody by public museums such as the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre.

Of around 2,200 works of art held by the French state, some 170 have been returned to their owners since 1951.

In 2018, the government set up a special unit to try to trace the owners’ heirs, rather than waiting for them to come forward.

(with AFP)

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