These 12 Paintings In SF Museums Might Be Looted Nazi Art
The painting above is awfully interesting, wherein a little Flemish boy in the early 1600s is feeding a monkey, with a dead deer sprawled on a table whilst a nutty goose is honking away behind him. The painting’s secret history might be even more interesting. According to a bombshell investigative report by the Jewish News of Northern California, it is one of 12 works of art belonging to San Francisco museums that are suspected to be artwork looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust and World War II.
We are going to show all of these artworks in this article, as these might never be displayed in San Francisco again. These are not Nazi artworks, but they are works with high likelihood of having been stolen by the Nazis and sold off in the 1930s and 40s. It’s not the artist’s fault the Nazis stole their work, and most were painted or drawn hundreds of years before the establishment of Nazi Germany.
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None of these are currently on display at SF museums, they’re all in storage at the moment. But they are in the possession of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), the organization that runs the de Young Museum and the California Legion of Honor.
As you might know, the Nazi plundering of artwork was the official policy of the Third Reich, to steal all art, furniture and valuables from Jewish homes, as well as museums in countries they occupied. Much of this art has been recovered and returned over the last 75 years, but a whole lot of it has not. As recently as last year, the New York Times reported that a veteran investigator of plundered Nazi art quit her job because no one ever returned the stolen art as they’re not legally bound to do so.
That may be what’s happening here. The FAMSF had originally tagged 10 of these works in 2001 as having suspicious origins and possibly being Nazi-plundered acquisitions. That investigation somehow went nowhere, and now the Jewish News of Northern California has identified two more pieces that seem to almost certainly be plundered Nazi art.
“We take any claims or questions or inquiries about our collection very seriously,” FAMSF art division director Melissa Buron told the Jewish News of Northern California.
“We do as much research as we possibly can to fill in gaps in knowledge that may exist,” she added. “It’s a continuous process, and gaps in provenance in any museum collection are not particularly uncommon. But that’s the work of a curator, to over many years fill in those gaps to the best of our ability and to continuously work on that. We want to be as transparent as possible.”
The museum said they are now submitting these works’ provenance to an independent outside review by the Art Loss Register, which is the “the world’s largest private database of stolen art, antiques and collectables.”
You see, Hitler hated modern art, he loved the old-style European shit, and described modern art works as “Degenerate Art.” But he didn’t destroy that type of art, he marketed it and sold it off to unscrupulous dealers for a handsome profit. As the Jewish News of Northern California explains, “Many such looted artworks were sold to shady art dealers in Switzerland, France and other places who then sold them to museums around the world, including in America. The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal currently has 29,863 flagged artworks cataloged from 179 museums in the United States alone — including FAMSF.”
Not all the works were stolen from Jewish homes and collections. Many are from museums in nations the Nazis annexed, as you can see in the Christian themes of these works.
But some Christian-themed work was owned by Jews, including the piece above that the Jewish News of Northern California identified as likely plundered. This was a precious work dating back to the 1500s, and had been acquired by Austrian Jewish art dealer Oscar Bondy. Historians are certain Bondy had his entire collection plundered in 1938 when the Nazis annexed Austria, and his works sold off by Nazi art dealer Hans Wendlend.
The Jewish News also identified the Rudolph Grossman sketch above as likely plundered. Grossman’s works were known to be displayed at Hitler’s “Degenerate Art” shows of stolen works. All 12 of the works in question here were obtained between 1933 and 1945, the prime period for Nazi plundering and resale.
It’s still common for museums to discover thay have Nazi-stolen artwork. Just last month, a Dutch museum paid a Holocaust victim’s family $240,000 for a painting that was looted by the Nazis, but refused to return the painting. Yet sometimes museums do the right thing and return the work, like when SF’s Asian Art Museum returned relics that were determined to be stolen. We hope the de Young Museum and the California Legion of Honor ultimately do the right thing too, if these works prove to have been looted by the Nazis.