Lou­vre dis­plays stolen art, hop­ing to find own­ers

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - Sa­muel PETREQUIN

PARIS — The Lou­vre Mu­seum is putting 31 paint­ings on per­ma­nent display in an ef­fort to find the right­ful own­ers of those and other works of art looted by Nazis dur­ing World War II.

The Paris mu­seum opened two show­rooms last month to display the paint­ings, which are among thou­sands of works of art looted by Ger­man forces in France be­tween 1940 and 1945.

More than 45,000 ob­jects have been handed back to their right­ful own­ers since the war, but more than 2,000 re­main un­claimed, in­clud­ing 296 paint­ings stored at the Lou­vre.

“These paint­ings don’t be­long to us. Mu­se­ums of­ten looked like preda­tors in the past, but our goal is to re­turn them,” Se­bastien Al­lard, the head of the paint­ings depart­ment at the Lou­vre, told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view on Tues­day.

“The large ma­jor­ity of the re­trieved art­works have been plun­dered from Jewish fam­i­lies dur­ing World War II. Ben­e­fi­cia­ries can see these art­works, de­clare that these art­works be­long to them, and of­fi­cially ask for their re­turn.”

The paint­ings in the new show­rooms are from var­i­ous artists of dif­fer­ent eras and hori­zons, in­clud­ing a re­mark­able land­scape from Theodore Rousseau, “La Source du Li­zon.”

Other more fa­mous looted works had al­ready been on display in the mu­seum, but vis­i­tors did not nec­es­sar­ily know they had been stolen by the Nazis. In mu­se­ums, pieces of art re­trieved by the French au­thor­i­ties are iden­ti­fied with the la­bel “MNR,” French ini­tials for Na­tional Mu­se­ums Re­cov­ery.

“We needed to draw at­ten­tion fur­ther to the mat­ter and raise pub­lic aware­ness,” said Al­lard. “We thought it was im­por­tant to high­light the spe­cific case of these works, which are not listed on our in­ven­to­ries.”

The Lou­vre ini­tia­tive is the lat­est ef­fort by French au­thor­i­ties to find heirs of fam­i­lies who lost their art­work. A work­ing group set up by the Cul­ture Min­istry is in charge of trac­ing back the ori­gins of the art and iden­ti­fy­ing own­ers. But it’s a long and la­bo­ri­ous task: only some 50 pieces have been re­turned since 1951.

“Peo­ple who come for­ward need, for in­stance, to es­tab­lish the proof that the art­work be­longed to their grand­fa­ther,” Al­lard said. “They need to find old fam­ily pic­tures and pay­ment slips, or gather tes­ti­monies. It can take years.”

In ad­di­tion to the display of art in sev­eral mu­se­ums across the coun­try, French au­thor­i­ties have also de­signed an MNR cat­a­logue , which is avail­able on­line and can help own­ers iden­tify their items without trav­el­ling to the Lou­vre. The com­plete list is known un­der the name of Rose Val­land, a French cu­ra­tor who risked her life keep­ing notes on all the art the Nazis stole dur­ing the war.

AP PHOTO/CHRISTOPHE ENA

Se­bastien Al­lard, head of the paint­ings depart­ment at the Lou­vre in Paris, poses on Tues­day next to paint­ings looted by Nazis dur­ing World War II. The mu­seum has now opened two show­rooms with 31 paint­ings on display which can be claimed by their le­git­i­mate own­ers.

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