Swiss Jewish artist wants museum to remove paintings over concerns over art bought from Jews under duress during WWII


(JTA) – A Swiss-Jewish artist asked the Zurich Art Museum to return her paintings to her, fearing the museum would show off works bought at below-market prices to Jewish refugees in dire circumstances in the years that preceded and during the Holocaust.

Miriam Cahn, 72, made her wishes known publicly this week, Tachles Swiss-Jewish newspaper reported.

“I no longer want to be represented at the Zurich Art Museum and I would like to get all of my work out of it. I will buy them back at the original purchase price, ”she wrote in a letter obtained by Tachles.

Cahn, a feminist artist whose work has won numerous awards, wrote the letter in response to a controversy that has swirled for years over the Emil Bührle collection, which is a central feature of the new expansion of the museum that has opened. earlier this year.

Emil Georg Bührle was a tycoon who accumulated considerable wealth by selling weapons to Nazi Germany and used his wealth to purchase the works of art that currently make up the collection that bears his name. The museum has been criticized for acquiring the collection over allegations that the collection contained art whose provenance had not been properly researched or which had been purchased from Jewish sellers who felt compelled to settle for a fraction of the market price.

Alexander Jolles, president of the Bührle Foundation which manages the collection, appeared to defend the collection at a press conference on December 15. Jolles said that Switzerland, which was neutral during World War II, did not have an anti-Semitic policy in the 1940s and that some works of art purchased from Jewish merchants during those years changed hands into ethically acceptable circumstances.

“It is not true that every legal transaction that a Jewish emigrant has made in Switzerland, the United States and other unoccupied regions is suspicious and can primarily be considered forced due to the persecution,” a- he declared.

The Bührle Foundation says none of the 200 works of art in the collection were looted or unethically obtained from Jews, but also said it would make it easier to set up an external review to prove it.

Separately, the Museum of Fine Arts Bern announced last week that it would return two works of art by Otto Dix to a Jewish family, the heirs of Ismar Littmann from Wrocław, due to evidence suggesting – but not proving – that they were looted from them, Tachles reported.

The paintings were from Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer who targeted Jewish art owners before and during World War II. Cornelius Gurlitt died in 2014, leaving his father’s collection at the Museum in Bern. He accepted the collection, stipulating that he would return any work suspected of having been looted.

Of the roughly 600,000 works of art stolen by the Nazis, more than 100,000 were never returned, according to Deutsche Welle. Some of them are on display in museums and private collections across Europe and beyond while others are the subject of lengthy legal battles.

So far, only five countries – Germany, Austria, the UK, France and the Netherlands – have established national committees to determine the provenance of suspicious works of art. Such committees were a key requirement of the Washington Principles on Art Confiscated by the Nazis, a landmark document approved in 1998 by 44 countries.


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