Controversy surrounding the Nazi regime’s relationship with art is nothing new. Historically the Nazi Reich was notorious for its suppression of “degenerate art” and its ruthless seizure of valuables from the persecuted Jewish population. The subject of the great looting of art perpetrated by the Nazis and the rumors of hidden bunkers filled with masterpieces has made its way from academic disputes and culture pages of the New York Times into popular media. The popularity of adventure thrillers such as Indiana Jones and documentaries like The Rape of Europa have confirmed the public’s interest in this compelling relationship between evil and beauty.
Outright theft aside, even art purchased by the Nazi regime has been the subject of debate in Germany over the past couple of months, leading to questions about how the owners of the artwork were treated and if they were forced to sell their pieces at an unfair price. A recent article in Deutsche Welle highlighted this latest chapter in the story of Nazi era art, bringing to light a disagreement concerning ownership of items currently contained within the collection of the Prussian Culture Foundation and displayed at the Berlin Applied Arts Museum.
The Foundation maintains that the artworks, collectively known as the Treasure of the Guelphs, were acquired fairly in 1935 through a purchase from four Jewish art dealers. The treasure dates from the 11th to the 15th century and is a collection of gold objects of a religious nature created by talented medieval goldsmiths from Germany. In a 12 page exposition delivered on May 29th the Foundation articulated its stance that the Nazi government had purchased the items at a fair price. The fact that they acquired the treasure for less than the dealers had bought it for five years earlier is dismissed with the explanation that the Jewish collectors had overpaid.
The heirs have only recently started to dispute the purchase in light of documents that have recently surfaced. The documents prove that the art was sold for far less than it was worth because of business troubles the dealers were having. The desirability of the items and the coercive power of the Nazi dictatorship, it is believed, allowed for the dealers to be essentially robbed of their items. Furthermore the heirs wonder if they were even entirely paid. The issue highlights the continued effects of the Nazi’s unfair treatment of the Jewish population and makes for a sensitive issue all around. Interestingly enough, part of the treasure sold before the German state’s acquisition resides in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Such a dispute highlights the importance of public and private collectors alike to take stock of the items within their collection and have knowledge of their provenance. It also makes clear the universal need for a fair appraisal of one’s valuables so as not to be taken for less. Exceptional though these circumstances may be every collector deserves to have a clear idea of their artwork’s value so they can sell it at a fair price or insure it for an appropriate retail replacement value. MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. in Chicago specializes in fine art appraisals, research and consultations, and any member of our staff would be more than happy to consult you on the true value of your artwork.
~MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Abramsohn, Jennifer. “Berlin Museum Defends Holocaust-era Art Purchase” in
Deutsche Welle. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4300228,00.html
Images credited to:
www.commons.wikimedia.org (Piece from the AIC Collection)
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