Looted art

Revealed: six paintings in Maritime Museum were seized by British troops from Nazi Germany

Last month we reported that a Nazi picture in the London gallery was taken by British soldiers at the end of World War II. We have now discovered that other works of art were also removed


The Art Newspaper can reveal that five paintings in the National Maritime Museum in London (NMM) were taken by British forces from Nazi Germany, in addition to the Bergen picture which we reported on last month. An additional painting which was seized by the British has since been lost. These works were all war trophies, but under recent spoliation guidelines, they would probably now be regarded as having been “wrongly taken”.

Evidence about the pictures is from a 1965-66 Ministry of Defence file in the UK National Archives. Among the papers is a note by an NMM research assistant, D.J. Lyon, which records that the museum had received seven paintings from the Naval War Trophies Committee. Inventory cards suggest they probably came to the NMM in 1946.

Four are by the marine artist Claus Bergen (1885-1964): Wreath in the North Sea in Memory of the Battle of Jutland (which we wrote about last month, pp1,8), The Commander (U-boat), Admiral Hipper’s Battle Cruiser at Jutland and The German Pocket Battleship Admiral Von Scheer Bombarding the Spanish Coast. One is by Carl Saltzmann (1847-1923), German Fleet Manoeuvres on the High Seas. Two are by Erhardt, Before the Hurricane at Apia (Samoa) and During the Hurricane at Apia.

Before the Hurricane at Apia was lent to HMS Calliope in 1959, and the picture was “lost” (it was formally written-off in 1979). The others remain at the NMM, all currently in store.

Wreath in the North Sea in Memory of the Battle of Jutland came from Mürwik Naval Academy at Flensburg, and last month we published a photograph of it in the ceremonial hall in March 1945, two months before the end of the war. Further documentary evidence in UK records suggests that the Saltzmann also hung at Mürwik.

In addition, a UK Ministry of Defence paper from December 1945 states that “a number of pictures of mediocre interest” from Flensburg were available for distribution to museums. Another document from January 1947 records that among items supplied by the Naval War Trophies Commission to the NMM were “some pictures from Flensburg”.

The Mürwik Naval Academy at Flensburg is currently researching its archives, to see if it has records of the six newly-identified paintings.

Last month the National Maritime Museum issued a statement on Wreath in the North Sea in Memory of the Battle of Jutland, saying that “the provenance research the museum has been undertaking on this most interesting historical area is ongoing, but the documentation at the NMM and the National Archives is not complete”.