German Lost Art Foundation is a central contact point in Germany for all matters pertaining to Nazi confiscated art, wartime losses, cultural property losses during the Soviet occupation and in the GDR, as well as of April 2018, the Foundation is also active in the field of cultural goods from colonial contexts. ArtLaw.club has had its honour to talk to the head of the Department for Documentation and Research Data Management of the Foundation, Dr. Andrea Baresel-Brand.
- Dear Dr. Baresel-Brand, what is the main role of the Lost Art Foundation (LAF)? Does the competence of LAF cover only losses occured on the territory of Germany or also other European states?
Sadly and inevitably, the topic of the Nazi-looted art is an international one. The National Socialists operated far beyond German borders, overrunning states in Europe and elsewhere with their war campaigns. A sad consequence of this is the fact that their theft of cultural property also took place across borders, the consequences of which are still visible today. Moreover, it is a consequence of the Shoah that the surviving victims of the Nazi terror or their descendants live all over the world.
- The Lost Art Foundation maintains the Lost Art Database and the website www.lostart.de, which, along with few others, is among the main “search engines” when they talk about provenance research and prudent behaviour of market participants (i.e., due diligence). Which objects does the Database contain and who are the main beneficiaries of the information kept therein?
The Lost Art-Database is unique not only because it is solely upheld by public funds, but also because it is freely accessible to everyone around the world and thus completely transparent. Established it in April 2000, the Federal Republic of Germany followed §6 Washinton Priciples, which states that “Efforts should be made to establish a central registry of such information” about “art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted in order to locate its pre-War owners or their heirs”. Lostart.de documents all kinds of moveable cultural property, no real estate etc., which is done without price-threshold.
- Taking into account that the time period of the main concern of the Foundation goes back to almost a century ago, what are the general rules of placing the lost objects in the Database and chances to enforce restitution?
The Lost Art-Databse documents cultural property that was lost either during the Nazi-era between 1933 and 1945 or due to the Second World War betwen 1939 and 1945. Either loss has to be plausible according to our regulations which are recorded in The General Principles for the registration and deletion of reports in the Lost Art Database (the details can be found here: https://www.lostart.de/en/report-objects).
From the legal perspective, enforcement in these cases is almost impossible due to the passage of time, but the Washington Principles have developped a strong, even though not legally binding, point of reference with substantial moral/ethical weighting.
- What, besides maintaining its two databases, Lost Art and the research database Proveana, are the foundation's main areas of work?
The German federal government, the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany and the three national associations of local authorities established the German Lost Art Foundation on 1 January 2015 as an incorporated foundation under civil law with headquarters in Magdeburg.The German Lost Art Foundation is a central point of contact in Germany for all matters pertaining to cultural goods which were unlawfully seized. The Foundation supports provenance research through research grants.
The main activities of the Foundation focus on cultural assets confiscated by the National Socialists through persecution, particularly those from former Jewish owners (so-called “Nazi confiscated art”). The Washington Principles of 1998 serve as the basis of its efforts in this field, to which end Germany officially pledged to fulfil its historic and moral obligations in a Common Declaration in 1999. The Foundation’s Lost Art Database that is publicly accessible registers search requests and found reports for cultural assets in this field. Through the Lost Art Database, the Foundation also publishes cultural property that was unlawfully seized, removed or relocated as a result of the Second World War (“wartime losses”). The starting point for the repatriation of cultural property displaced by war is international law, in particular the Hague Conventions of 1907 and of 1954.
Another field of activity of the Foundation is cultural property losses during the Soviet occupation and in the GDR. Irrespective of claims and the applicable legal situation, this is about coming to terms with historical processes, structures, and methods of the authorities, institutions and actors involved as well as the history of the victims or the aggrieved parties of state-operated art and cultural property confiscations.
As of April 2018, the Foundation is also active in the field of cultural goods from colonial contexts.
Specific tasks are the strengthening and expanding of provenance research. This is realized e.g. by providing independent financial assistance to research projects. The Foundation promotes the study of the history of artworks and other museum items, books and archived materials; the fates of the victims, tthe roles of all other active participants. Furthermore the German Lost Art Foundation is dedicated to creating the conditions necessary for basic research, cooperating with university and non-university research institutions, establishing training programmes for provenance researchers as an integral component of Art History and supporting continuing education measures for museum staff. Another task is building national and international transparency through the documentation of search requests and found-object reports from domestic and foreign reporters in the area of “Nazi-looted property” and “wartime losses” via the Lost Art Database, also to document research findings, to publish academic and scientific works and, last but not least to coordinate and stage conferences and events and conduct press and public relations activities.
Also, the German Lost Art Foundation undertakes advising and networking through
- Providing advice and support to public and private institutions and individuals in order to achieve “fair and just solutions”
- Mediating and forwarding inquiries to the responsible federal, state and municipal authorities
- Collaborating with non-profit provenance research organisations in Germany
- Supporting the independent “Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property”
- How Lost Art Foundation can assist present-day heirs and claimants in locating their property and provenance research? What happens next when the object is located?
The German Lost Art Foundation offers two databases: Lost Art for the registration of search request and found-object reports and thus enables heirs/claimants to document their lost cultural property to the public. On the other hand, they can check the found-object reports transparently listed within the database, whether their losses have already been identified by institutions or private parties als looted art. With the help of the Lost Art Database, the German Lost Art foundation may establish contact between the different parties so that they may negotiate between themselves the return of the objects in question to its rightful owners.
Via the Proveana Research Database (www.proveana.de), the German Lost Art Foundation publishes current provenance research projects, their reports and results.
Through the funding of such provenance research projects, which is another important task of the German Lost Art Foundation, German public and private institutions as well as private parties are enabled e.g. to research their collections with regard to provenances or to reconstruct their historical collections. Furthermore, basic research projects and indexing projects of archival material relevant to Nazi-era art looting, are funded.
- The fates of the lost objects over the last decades can be very different. They may end up with the good-faith possessor or be exhibited on public display. What are the most common solutions for disputes of this kind?
It is easy tio imagine that fair and just solutions are often a result of complex and lengthy negotiations between the parties involved, be they public institutions or private persons. In the context of efforts to return cultural assets confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution, the international “Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art” of 1998 and the German “Joint declaration of the Federal Government, the federal states and the local authority associations on finding and returning Nazi-confiscated cultural assets, in particular those formerly in Jewish possession” of 1999 stipulate that “fair and just solutions” should be found between the involved parties in order to bring closure to open questions and disagreements. In light of this requirement, in practice the question often arises of what form a fair and just solution might take. Therefore the German Lost Art Foundation provides a short overview: https://www.kulturgutverluste.de/Webs/EN/Research/Loesungen/Index.html
- Have the been any requests or incoming information from the heirs/institutions that are currently located in the Eastern European countries/the Baltics? How can, for instance, Latvian institutions or interested parties receive informational or financial support for their provenance research and locating the object?
There have not been any inquiries from Eastern Europe and the Baltics so far. Sadly, only institutions based in Germany or private parties with main residence in Germany can apply for funding, foreign applicants are only eligible as cooperation partners of a German institution. Our “Help Desk” (https://www.kulturgutverluste.de/Webs/EN/HelpDesk/Index.html;jsessionid=141D62027A3B21181C75239A7B0242AF.m1) is available for general inquiries and assistance with researching in Germany.
The Lost Art Database also documents reports from private parties and institutions outside Germany and, of course, the Proveana research database provides information from international sources or projects and is also open to international users.
- A decade ago, the story of Cornelius Gurlitt was at the front pages of many leading art newsapers. For a certain period of time Lost Art Foundation was responsible for The Gurlitt Provenance Research Project, which followed the disclosure of his farther’s collection. What were the main findings of the project? What is the current status of the artworks from the collection?
The “Gurlitt Provenance Research Project” was established in 2016 as a follow-on project to the Task Force “Schwabing Art Trove” (2014-2015, see https://www.taskforce-kunstfund.de/de/aktuell.htm) and ran under the auspices of the German Lost Art Foundation until 31 December 2017. It researched the origins (provenance) of the artworks that had been found at the homes of Cornelius Gurlitt since 2012. The aim of the provenance research was to clarify the historic ownership status of the suspicious artworks in order to establish whether any of them were Nazi-confiscated property and, if so, from whom they had been taken. Furthermore, a large number of written documents from Gurlitt’s estate were listed in an inventory and made accessible. The research work was conducted based on the agreement signed by the Federal Government, the Free State of Bavaria and the Kunstmuseum Bern Foundation in 2014. 1,566 artworks and bundles of items from the “Gurlitt art trove” had been dealt with by the Task Force and the project by the end of 2017. Looking at the art trove as a whole, it becomes clear that it is not so much a collection of highly valuable artworks worth billions as was initially assumed, but rather a mixture of family heirlooms and dealer stock. It does contain some very high quality, outstanding pieces though, but most of it consists of works on paper, including a large number of serial graphic works. With regard to determining the provenance, a final classification of the artworks had been carried out according to the criteria in the agreement. This was done after the completion of a review procedure and the provision of closure notes. Reviews and various documentation tasks were concluded as part of the projects entitled “Reviews, Dokumentation und anlassbezogene Forschungsarbeiten zum Kunstfund Gurlitt” (2018) and “Publikation und Ergebnisdokumentation zum ‘Kunstfund Gurlitt’” (2019). The material is now accessible via www.proveana.de (registration required), the original documents from the Gurlitt Estate are available in the German Federal Archive (Bundesarchiv) Since 2020, the Kunstverwaltung des Bundes (Federal Republic of Germany) is one of the contacts for research related questions. Further to the findings of the Taskforce, by the end of 2019 the Gurlitt provenance research project team had ascertained that 14 works from the Gurlitt art trove were highly likely or confirmed to be cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution.
In his will, Cornelius Gurlitt named the Kunstmuseum Bern Foundation sole beneficiary, which accepted the Gurlitt bequest. As soon as the projects funded by the Federal Republic of Germany were closed on 31 December 2019, the Kunstmuseum Bern resumed its research. It also provides public access to the artworks of the Cornelius Gurlitt Estate and wishes to facilitate restitution of stolen artworks. The corresponding conditions and methods have been defined in the Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany, the Free State of Bavaria and the Stiftung Kunstmuseum Bern of 24 November 2014. All artworks and artefacts are documented in The Gurlitt Estate Database (https://www.kunstmuseumbern.ch/en/forschen/der-nachlass-gurlitt/datenbank-gurlitt-2587.html). By March 2021, another nine artworks from the Gurlitt Estate have been returned to the heirs of their rightful owners.