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Spoliation Advisory Panel rules that two fine pieces of porcelain - acquired in good faith by the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum - were looted during the Nazi era

054/08
11 June 2008

Two pieces of fine porcelain currently housed in two museums in Britain were looted during the Nazi period, an Independent Panel ruled today.

A monteith or glass cooler at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge will be returned to the claimant, the sole surviving heir of Heinrich Rothberger. An ex-gratia payment of £18,000 will be made to the same claimant for a Viennese dish on display at the British Museum.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel concluded that there was firm evidence showing that both pieces were seized by the Gestapo in Vienna in 1938, having formerly been part of the Rothberger collection. 

The ruling has been endorsed by the Government and accepted by the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said: 
 
"It is of the utmost importance that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War are resolved, and that proper amends are made to those who lost works of art at the hands of the Nazis.

“I am grateful to Sir David Hirst, to the members of the Spoliation Advisory Panel and the museums concerned. Although the claimant has said they are happy with the outcome, this case illustrates the paradox in the present system where historic legislation prevents a consistent approach from all museums in responding to claims.  This is something that the Government will want to seriously consider going forward.”

Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director of the British Museum, said: 

"The British Museum welcomes the finding of the Spoliation Advisory Panel. The Museum has been very proactive in this case, initiating contact with Mr Rothberger's heir after our provenance research suggested the probability that the object had been in the Rothberger collection.  The British Museum and Mr Rothberger's heir jointly submitted the case to the panel.'

The Fitzwilliam Museum Syndicate said: 

“The Syndicate of The Fitzwilliam Museum approves the restitution of the monteith, acknowledges the valuable role of the Spoliation Advisory Panel in resolving such matters and, in accordance with the principles of the international museum community, is pleased that this fine example of Sèvres ware will be returned to its rightful owner.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors
 
1. The claimant is the same for both pieces.

2. The Panel's terms of reference and report findings are available online.

3. The British Museum object is a Viennese porcelain plate decorated with stylized flowers and foliage made around 1725-30. It was donated to the Museum by William King in 1939, soon after a forced sale of the collection of Heinrich Rothberger, of Vienna, in 1938. It is available to view by appointment in the BM's Ceramic Study Centre.

4. The British Museum is unable to return the dish due to Section 3 of the British Museum Act 1963 requiring the Trustees not to dispose of objects vested in them as part of their collections.

5. The then Arts Minister Alan Howarth announced the setting up of a Panel to help resolve claims on art looted during the Nazi era on 17 February 2000 (DCMS News Release 35\2000) and the full membership of the Panel on 13 April (DCMS News Release 84\2000).

6. The Declaration of Principles agreed at the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets of December 1998 states, among the other principles, that:

  • pre-War owners and their heirs should be encouraged to come forward and make known their claims to art confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted;
  • if the pre-War owners of art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted, or their heirs, can be identified, steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution, recognising this may vary according to the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific case.

Press Enquiries:
Sally Aldous, DCMS Press Office:  020 7211 6266
Hannah Boulton, British Museum Press Office: 020 7323 8522 (hboulton@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk)
Fiona Brown, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Press Office 01223 332941

DCMS Out of hours telephone pager no: 07699 751153
DCMS Public Enquiries: 020 7211 6200
Internet: http://www.culture.gov.uk/

 

 

Press Enquiries: 020 7211 6052/6277
Out of hours telephone pager no: 07699 751153
Public Enquiries: 020 7211 6200

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