Ottawa Contributes to Research on Nazi-Looted Art

April 28, 2013 7:04 pm Last Updated: April 28, 2013 7:04 pm

The federal government has announced funding of almost $200,000 to help Canadian museums contribute to a key international research effort on the restitution of Holocaust-era works of art stolen by the Nazis.

In partnership with six museums, the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization will undertake research and develop guidelines to help the museum community in Canada address the issue of art looted by the Nazis during World War II.

The project will also raise the international profile of Canada in this field, according to a statement from the Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

“Our Government has undertaken a range of efforts to identify and facilitate the return of Nazi- confiscated art,” Heritage Minister James Moore said in the statement.

“The Department of Canadian Heritage, its portfolio agencies, and the Canadian museum community are working together to advance provenance research, and a number of looted artworks have already been returned from Canadian collections.”

The theft and displacement of art and other cultural property by the Nazis during the war occurred on an unprecedented scale. Although many of these works have been recovered, it is estimated that there are well over 100,000 items that have not been returned to their rightful owners.

The funding announcement coincides with the beginning of Canada’s term as chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. To mark the occasion, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts returned “The Duet,” a valuable painting by Dutch master Gerrit van Honthorst, to the Spiro family, which owned it before WWII.

Detroit-based Gerald Matthes, grandson of Bruno Spiro, a wealthy Hamburg businessman, had been searching for the painting for close to five years, according to the Canadian Jewish News.

Mathes said that his grandfather had a collection of hundreds of paintings, almost all of which were plundered by the Nazis. “The Duet” is the first to be recovered.

Dr. Josephine Mills, president of the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization, said the support from Ottawa “will give institutions the tools needed to further advance provenance research on relevant works. “

“With the support of the Government of Canada, directors of Canadian art museums and galleries will develop their professional expertise and contribute to the international call for transparency, justice, and closure, in one of the most sordid chapters of 20th century history.”