Experts examine a collection of Nazi-era art


A visitor looks at Nazi propaganda, at the exhibition How extremism wants to deceive the people on December 10. AFP

Experts will review the methods used to determine the provenance of works from a vast private art collection acquired during World War II by Emil Buhrle, a Swiss museum announced on Wednesday.

The announcement by Zurich’s Kunsthaus comes as new suspicions swirl around the Nazi-era origins of one of Europe’s most prestigious private art collections.

The late industrialist (1890-1956) amassed a fortune selling weapons to the Nazis and Allies during World War II, wealth that bought around 600 works of art by the end of his life.

The Buhrle Foundation itself confirms that 13 paintings bought by the industrialist of German origin, who later acquired Swiss nationality, had been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners in France.

Following a series of court cases after the war, Buhrle returned all 13 coins to their rightful owners, then bought back nine, the foundation said.

But long-standing suspicions around the provenance of other pieces in the collection, which includes famous works by Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Picasso, have grown in recent years.

The collection was long displayed in a low-key private museum on the outskirts of Zurich, but it was decided it should be moved following a spectacular 2008 heist of four 19th-century masterpieces.

It was decided to transfer the collection to the Kunsthaus, one of the main museums in Switzerland, which opened a new wing last October to permanently house the works, which has sparked a new debate.

A recent book by historian Erich Keller titled Kontaminerte Museum, Where The Contaminated Museum, raises questions around the provenance of the works and criticizes a lack of contextualization.

The Buhrle Foundation meanwhile presented a report to the Kunsthaus on Wednesday on the provenance research it had carried out over the past two decades, concluding that there was no indication of problematic circumstances or problematic provenances for any of the 203 works from the current collection.

Even though Buhrle conducted business during World War II, “he didn’t leave us a collection of Nazi art,” collection director Lukas Gloor told a news conference, according to the report. ATS news agency.

The Kunsthaus, meanwhile, said it had made an effort to contextualize the collection, in particular through a historical study carried out by experts from the University of Zurich.

And in an effort to remove any remaining doubts, he said he had appointed “an independent committee of experts”.

They would assess whether the methodology and approach used by the Buhrle Foundation to determine the provenance of the works “were correct and whether the results were presented correctly”, the Kunsthaus said.


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