Looted Art, Nazism and Fascism

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By Jessica Situ

In honor of the Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the Italian Academy at Columbia University held a symposium highlighting the importance of “discrimination and crimes against humanity.”

An annual event since 2008, this year’s symposium focused on the topic of looted art under the Nazis and fascist regimes.

“It is said that approximately 20 percent of the art in Europe was looted,” said moderator Lynn Rother, the senior provenance specialist at the Museum of Modern Art. Taking part in this round table discussion was Monica Dugot who works as the international director of restitution at Christie’s, the world’s largest auction house, Jasmin Hartmann, a lecturer in provenance research and currently a provenance specialist in Düsseldorf, Germany; Ilaria Pavan, a fellow at the academy and an assistant professor in modern history at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.

The spoliation of art was common during the Nazi and Fascist eras.

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Ilaria Pavan mentioned that one of the reasons why there were so much looted art in Italy was because Jews fleeing Nazis found Italy to be a relatively safe place to go. “Jewish antique leaders and collectors were most likely forced to dispose of their [art] collections.” Various collections of art were presented in a slide show, one of them being Girolamo Romano’s “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue.” This piece was plundered during the Nazi era and soon returned to the Gentili heirs after a legal battle.

This painting attracted a lot of media attention. The Italian newspapers talked about how the U.S. stripped the nation of their cultural heritage, while American media talked about how the looted art was finally returned to its rightful heirs.

In addition to Girolamo Romano’s paintings, the panel discussed Max Liebermann’s “Two Riders On The Beach.” This painting was found in 2012 after a police raid in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, a German art collector.

Looted art is still a problem today. The family of Lilly Cassirer have been fighting for custody over a painting by Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honoré, dans l’après-midi. Effet de pluie. The work, appraised at $30 million, was looted by Nazis before the Holocaust.

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