Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nations Wrestle with Issue of Art Looted in Ww II Germany's Culpability, Losses Pondered

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nations Wrestle with Issue of Art Looted in Ww II Germany's Culpability, Losses Pondered

Article excerpt

For months, the enormity of Nazi looting from Jews has riveted the world, with Switzerland wrestling with its complicity, Jewish victims demanding compensation and plundered artworks cropping up in the American art market.

But the Rubens painting in Buffalo's Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, the gilded ceremonial armor that graces the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the two Dutch paintings that Oberlin College students study in their college art museum raise another nettlesome moral issue from World War II.

Like thousands of artworks, these pieces were not looted by the Nazis but taken from German cultural institutions by the war's victors - many trucked back to Moscow as war reparations, but others allegedly siphoned off by unscrupulous dealers and sold to American collectors and museums.

For some art specialists, including Germans, these losses pose a difficult moral question: Do nations now eager to pay reparations to Holocaust survivors for their losses have an equal responsibility, or any responsibility at all, to return the cultural artifacts that were carted away from Germany by the thousands in mid-1945?

What's more, artworks such as those in Philadelphia, Buffalo and Oberlin represent a curious paradox for the art world: Hundreds of Jews who se families lost artworks to Nazi looters are eager to make claims but cannot locate their art. Yet some German museums have known for years where to find their artworks in the United States but sometimes have made only feeble attempts to recover them.

The Peter Paul Rubens painting "St. Gregory of Nazianus," which has been prominently displayed in the Buffalo museum since 1952, is a case in point. It was taken from a German museum in Gotha, in what became part of East Germany, in 1945. By 1977, the East German government had traced it to Buffalo. In 1984, East German officials even asked the U.S. State Department to intervene with that museum, apparently to no avail.

Yet it was only last week, when the Globe contacted the museum's director, Douglas Schultz, that the museum learned for the first time that its 1952 purchase might be tainted. Schultz, who has been the museum's curator and director for a quarter-century, expressed incredulity that the Gotha museum never contacted him, although he said he believed his institution had legally acquired the painting.

Similarly, the Dresden Museum, before the war one of the world's greatest, appears to have known since the mid-1980s that five missing items from its ceremonial armor collection were among the most celebrated pieces in the extraordinary collection that New York tobacco magnate Otto Von Kienbusch gave to the Philadelphia museum in 1977. …

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