The Spoliation Advisory Panel, the UK body that hears disputes relating to Nazi-looted art held in national collections, has delivered two important reports this month.
The first is a follow-up on an earlier 2014 recommendation that the Tate return a Constable painting, ‘Beaching a Boat, Brighton’, to the descendants of the painting’s original owner, Baron Hatvany of Hungary. The Baron had owned the painting until 1944, when it was taken from him as a result of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. The painting changed hands many times and was eventually donated to the Tate in 1986. Although the Tate had sound legal title to the painting, the SAP recommended that on moral grounds the work should be returned to the Baron’s heirs. As a government-appointed panel, the SAP is able to make recommendations based on moral, rather than purely legal, claims.
Following the SAP’s 2014 report, a Hungarian export licence for the painting emerged dating from 1946. It was thought that this could be a ‘game changer’, indicating perhaps that the painting had been recovered by the Baron following the war and then exported from Hungary. The SAP considered the licence, but in its supplementary report from earlier this month deemed the evidence insufficient to show that the Baron had ever gotten the Constable back. As a result, the painting is set to be returned to the heirs.
The second SAP report this month involves a Renoir in the possession of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, owned by the city council. The painting had once belonged to the Jewish-owned Margraf art dealership until it was sold at auction in 1935, following Nazi persecution of the group’s directors. The report of last week found insufficient evidence to show the auction sale was a forced sale. The moral claim was therefore not strong enough for the painting’s return to be ordered. It therefore will remain in Bristol.
In other SAP news, an independent review was conducted of the panel in order to ensure that it was continuing to function effectively. The government has responded to the review, but so far no changes have been implemented.