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University of Michigan Museum Finds No Art Looted by Nazis


The University of Michigan Museum of Art concluded a three-year investigation that found no evidence any of its artwork had been looted by Nazis during World War II, an official said.

Museum director James Steward said the facility spent between $100,000 and $200,000 to investigate more than 5,000 pieces of artwork part of an effort to comply with guidelines of the American Association of Museums and the university.

“We didn’t find any information that makes us believe that any of our works could have passed through the hands of the Nazis,” Steward told The Ann Arbor News for a story published Friday.

The German military confiscated hundreds of thousands of paintings and sculptures during the 1930s and 1940s from European museums and Jewish families. Much of it was returned after the war, but many looted objects unknowingly made their way into museums.

The museum hired a specialist whose research included finding out how the museum acquired the work; contacting the dealers, donors or their heirs; and consulting archives, genealogies and other materials.

The museum learned through the process that the painting “The Young Girl Knitting” by French artist Camille Pissarro had been owned by one of the artist’s family members boosting its historic value.

The project also allowed the museum to more accurately determine when some of its artwork was created. Investigators narrowed the origin of English artist John Hoppner’s portrait, “The Digby Children,” to a 10-year period rather than a 32-year period.

The national museum association in 2003 created a Web portal to help heirs identify potentially stolen work. The Michigan museum has listed 73 paintings and 41 sculptures with the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal because of gaps in their wartime ownership histories.

Earlier this year, the heirs of a German-Jewish woman dropped claims to ownership of a pair of paintings housed in art museums in Detroit and in Toledo, Ohio.

The heirs of Martha Nathan filed motions to dismiss their appeals challenging the ownership of Vincent van Gogh’s “Les Becheurs,” which is owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Paul Gauguin’s “Street Scene in Tahiti,” housed at the Toledo Museum of Art.

In 2004, descendants of Nathan’s siblings and in-laws approached the two museums claiming, in part, that the works had been sold under duress. After researching the claims, the museums determined that Nathan, a member of a notable banking family who emigrated from Germany to France in 1937 to escape Nazi persecution, sold the paintings voluntarily.

Information from: The Ann Arbor News,

— Associated Press

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