Nazi loot

Dresden state museums expand provenance research — all the way to Russia

Strives to break restitution “logjam”


The State Museums of Dresden announced at a major conference on restitution last month that not only is it conducting the world’s biggest research project into the Nazi-era provenance of its collections, but it intends to address the issue of works claimed by Russia and other former Soviet countries.

The State Museums hosted the international conference in Dresden last month. It follows the announcement this spring that Dresden had received E15m from the Saxon region, an unprecedented sum in Germany, to conduct Nazi-era provenance research into the 1.2m items in its collections (The Art Newspaper, June 2008, p13).

The State Museums said there were two reasons for hosting the conference. In a statement, the institution said: “German museums are nowhere near completion of an exhaustive search of their holdings for any Jewish-owned property that was not lawfully acquired.” But it added that the ongoing negotiations between Germany and former Soviet countries over “missing” works of art on both sides have become bogged down in “politically entrenched” positions. Museum director Martin Roth announced that in February next year a special conference, “Trophies—Losses—Equivalence. Cultural Goods as War Victims: Current Research and Prospects”, will take place in Moscow. Organised by the Dresden State Museums and the German Historical Institute of Moscow, the forum will focus on recording Russian losses and searching for Russian items in German collections. Dr Roth says he hopes this will “loosen the logjam in the looted-art debate by directly addressing the issues that matter to Russian institutions”.

Dr Roth noted that so far the federal government has only allocated E1m to conduct similar provenance research, shared between all of Germany’s museums. Two weeks after the Dresden conference, the minister for culture, Bernd Neumann, urged German institutions to approach provenance research “with greater commitment and energy”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Dresden takes provenance research to Russia'