Swiss museum asks experts to examine Nazi-era art collection

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

The Kunsthaus Zurich announcement came as renewed suspicion swirls around the Nazi-era origins of one of Europe’s most prestigious private art collections.

3 בגלריה

A visitor looks at the Sense of Things exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Switzerland

A visitor looks at the Sense of Things exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Switzerland

(Photo: EPA)

The late industrialist (1890-1956) amassed a fortune selling weapons to the Nazis and Allies during World War II, wealth which made it possible to purchase around 600 works of art at the end of his life.

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

Following a series of post-war lawsuits, Buhrle returned the 13 pieces to their rightful owners and then bought back nine, the foundation said.

But long-held suspicions about the provenance of other pieces in the collection, which include famous works by Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Picasso, have intensified in recent years.

3 בגלריה

The expanded Kunsthaus in Zurich, home to the controversial collection of Emil BührleThe expanded Kunsthaus in Zurich, home to the controversial collection of Emil Bührle

The expanded Kunsthaus in Zurich, home to the controversial collection of Emil Bührle

(Photo: Kunsthaus Zurich)

The collection has long been on display in a low-key private museum on the outskirts of Zurich, but it has been determined that it should be moved following a spectacular 2008 theft of four 19th-century masterpieces.

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

A recent book by historian Erich Keller entitled “Das kontaminerte Museum”, or The Contaminated Museum, raises questions around the provenance of the works and criticizes a lack of contextualization.

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

3 בגלריה

Landscape by Cézanne originally belonging to a German Jewish couple, forced to flee the NazisLandscape by Cézanne originally belonging to a German Jewish couple, forced to flee the Nazis

Landscape by Cézanne originally belonging to a German Jewish couple, forced to flee the Nazis

(Photo: Getty Images)

Even though Buhrle did business during World War II, “he did not leave us a collection of Nazi art,” collection director Lukas Gloor told a press conference, according to the agency. ATS press.

The Kunsthaus, for its part, declared that 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 order to remove all 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 works “were correct and whether the results were presented correctly,” said the Kunsthaus.


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