Following on from my last post about two recent reports from the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel (SAP) regarding Nazi-looted art in British public collections, it was reported this summer that Glasgow City Council has followed an earlier SAP recommendation in relation to a 16th century tapestry fragment held at the city’s Burrell Collection.
The November 2014 report recommended that an ex gratia payment (literally meaning ‘for favour’) be made to the descendants of Emma Budge, a German-Jewish women whose family was deprived of the profits when the tapestry was sold after her death in 1937. The fragment was bought the following year by Sir William Burrell, the Scottish shipping magnate and founder of the Burrell Collection, from a somewhat dubious art-aquirer named John Hunt (there have been allegations that Hunt had bought a number of Nazi-looted pieces in Europe at the time).
While the SAP found that the Budge heirs had a strong moral claim to the fragment, it was unable to recommend the return of the piece because of the restrictive terms placed on the City by Burrell before his death, forbidding the disposal of any item in the collection. As such, the remedies available were limited. The SAP thus recommended the ex gratia payment to compensate the heirs (an amount to be agreed upon at a later date), as well as an explanatory notice to be displayed near the work in public. The flip-side is that the heirs had to abandon their legal claim to the work.
This summer the Glasgow Council agreed on the amount to be paid to the heirs. The affair is thus settled. In the end it demonstrates the great sway and influence of the SAP when making recommendations: not only will suggested restitutions be followed through by the Minister (it would be a scandal otherwise), but suggested payments will be abided by as well. Hopefully the outcome is an acceptable one for both sides. The Burrell keeps the tapestry; the family gets recognition and money to compensate for the value. If only other cultural property disputes were so evenhandedly resolved…