April 3, 2019

France to Launch New Office Dedicated to Research and Restitution of Nazi-Looted Art

PARIS, FRANCE—Following a report published in March of last year, which stated that France is lagging behind the international effort to return Nazi-looted art, the French government will establish a new team dedicated to provenance research and restitution within its ministry of culture. Documentation formally approving the task force is expected to be signed in the next two weeks.

According to Artnet, the office will comprise a five-person staff, headed by cultural heritage adviser David Zivie, and will have an annual budget of $224,000. Zivie authored the report published last year, which cited the French government’s “lack of communication and transparency” and “weak responses and inaction” when it came to its restitution processes.

The new office will aid universities, museums, and other institutions; proactively conduct provenance research on collections that lack information between the years of 1933 and 1945; and potentially publish their inventories on a website dedicated to restoring artworks to their rightful owners. It will also support appointments and the training of in-house provenance specialists at institutions and will be in communication with its counterparts in countries like Germany, Austria, and the UK.

Zivie began working on his investigation of the country’s restitution policies in May 2017. He finished the report, commissioned by former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay, in mid-March 2018 and delivered it to Azoulay’s successor, Françoise Nyseen, noting that French curators are not trained in how to conduct provenance research like museum professionals in Germany, which has a $7.3 million budget for restitution purposes.

In December 2017, the Louvre installed thirty-one Nazi-looted paintings in permanent display galleries, with seventy-six additional works seized by Nazis on display throughout the museum. While many applauded the museum’s decision to make these works more visible in order to step up its restitution efforts, critics argued that the move was a little too late.

Nazis are expected to have looted some 100,000 artworks during the German occupation of France. Around 61,000 works were returned after the war, between 1945 and 1949. The remaining works were either auctioned or kept by the French state for their artistic merit, with an estimated 2,143 placed in inventory.

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