Sunday, August 23, 2015

Zurich's Kunsthaus Could be the Receiver of Stolen Jewish Art.

Manet, La Sultana (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Sometime ago I wrote about the new extension planned for Zurich's Kunsthaus, designed by the British architect David Chipperfield. The extension will house the impressive Bürhle collection, part of which was last exhibited a few years ago at the Kunsthaus. The collection will, when opened to the public in 2020, torpedo Zurich's Kunsthaus into the top tier for public collections of French Impressionism. In fact, Zurich will be second only to Paris.  But tomorrow a book will be published from which the fallout is sure to complicate matters.

During the past few decades most major art museums have been forced to audit their collections, or at least give an impression they are doing so, in order to ascertain whether they hold any art that was wrongfully taken from Jewish owners during the era of Nazi rule in Europe. This can be in the form of art that was simply robbed by the Nazis, or art that was bought by an innovative collector at knock-down prices because the unfortunate Jewish owners, fleeing from the Nazis, were being forced to sell.

A couple of years ago the world was intrigued by the Cornelius Gurlitt story, when over 1,000 formerly Jewish owned works of art were discovered in an apartment in Munich. Gurlitt has since died and, for some strange reason, he bequeathed his collection to an art museum in Bern. This was a nice windfall for the museum, but brought rather a lot of unwanted attention - was Switzerland simply going to accept a gift, even when the gift is stained with Jewish blood?

Cezanne, Paysage (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The new book that will appear in bookstores tomorrow, Schwarzbuch Bührle [Blackbook Bührle] makes the argument that the Kunsthaus might be the receiver of stolen goods via the controversial Bürhle collection. The fact that the industrialist Bürhle supplied Nazi Germany with weapons is already somewhat embarrassing, but now the Kunsthaus will have to deal with this added complication. The grave accusations will certainly lead to further public discussion as co-editor and one of the authors of the book is Guido Magnaguagno, who happens to have once been Vice-Director of the Kunsthaus. The opinions of this esteemed art historian and museum leader will be taken seriously. Indeed the pending appearance of his book has already made front page news in Switzerland this weekend.

In the new book Magnaguagno lists 12 works that are particularly suspicious because of the so called gaps in provenance, works from Cezanne, Courbet, Manet, Utrillo, Monet, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Kalf, Braque and Corot. No doubt we will hear a lot more about this before the new extension opens in 2020.
Monet, Poppy-fields at Vetheuil (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

No comments:

Post a Comment