Photo: Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, München
Photo: Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, München
For over a decade, the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus has reviewed the provenance of the art in its collections. In addition to compiling complete and accurate documentation of all newly acquired works, the museum seeks to identify works of art that were formerly owned by Jewish collectors or that were unlawfully seized from their former owners and. Such works are returned to the heirs of the legitimate owners whenever possible. The museum’s provenance research efforts are primarily focused on the Nazi era (1933–1945), but also extend to works acquired after 1945.
In its October 21, 1999 meeting, the Committee on Culture of the City of Munich passed a resolution pledging the city’s support for the search for formerly Jewish-owned art among the holdings of the city’s municipal museums as requested by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the German Museums Association, and the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States. These efforts are based on the principles adopted at the Washington Conference on Nazi-Confiscated Art in December 1998, the subsequent "Joint Declaration by the Federal Government, the Federal States, and the National Associations of Local Authorities on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated art, especially Jewish property" issued in December 1999, and the guidelines concerning the implementation of that declaration issued in February 2001.
The guidelines summarize the scope and aims of provenance research as follows: "Public collections should be aware of their responsibility to help track down Nazi-confiscated art in their holdings by identifying, on the basis of the documents available to them and taking into account the current status of research, any acquisitions suspected of having been confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution, by making available to the public any relevant information on such items at the website of the Coordination Office for the Return of Cultural Property, www.lostart.de, and by providing further information to those with a legitimate interest."
The Lenbachhaus is engaged in an ongoing effort to scrutinize the provenance of all objects in its collections; objects whose provenance cannot be ascertained are presented at www.lostart.de. In the past several years, the museum has also considerably strengthened its cooperation with other municipal and state museums in Munich in order to share expertise in the field of provenance research. In the framework of this close cooperation, we initiated two major research projects and provided the required scholarly guidance. The projects were designed to shed light on historic contexts and facilitate the provenance research programs at the various museums.
One project documented one of the darkest chapters in the history of Munich: the seizures of Jewish art collections by the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) in Munich in the winter of 1938–39 and the subsequent fates of the confiscated objects and the individuals involved in the seizures. This project was jointly launched by the Department of Culture of the City of Munich, the University of Erfurt, and the Bavarian State Picture Collections. The study was written by Dr. Jan Schleusener at the University of Erfurt. The project was overseen by Dr. Andrea Bambi of the Department for Provenance Research at the Bavarian State Picture Collections; Prof. Dr. Christiane Kuller, Chair of Recent and Contemporary History and the Didactics of History at the University of Erfurt; Dr. Irene Netta, Head of Collections Archives and Art Provenance Research at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; and Bernhard Purin, Director of the Jewish Museum in Munich. Titled "Raub von Kulturgut: Der Zugriff des NS-Staates auf jüdischen Kunstbesitz in München und seine Nachgeschichte," the study in which Dr. Schleusener compiled his findings was published in November 2016 (PDF). Shortly after the pogroms of November 1938, the Gestapo seized ca. 2,500 cultural assets in ca. 70 households in and around Munich that had been identified as Jewish, initiating one of the largest state-run art looting operations in the territory of the so-called Old Reich, which involved art experts, art dealers, and the directors of museums in Munich. The book reconstructs the events leading up to the operation, illuminates the motivations and interests behind it, shows who profited, and documents how perpetrators and victims spoke about it—or remained silent—after the war. It offers a comprehensive account of the seizure operation in its historical context as well as a detailed discussion of the subsequent fates of the individuals and objects involved. Additional cooperation partners in this project included the Bavarian National Museum, the Munich Jewish Museum, the Münchner Stadtmuseum, the Museum Villa Stuck, the Munich State Collection of Graphic Art, the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, and the Office for Non-State Museums in Bavaria.
The second joint project initiated by the Bavarian State Picture Collections and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus examined the role of the art dealer and collector Günther Franke (1900–1976) and his activities between 1933 and 1945 as well as in the postwar era until 1963. Its central hypothesis is that Franke, during the Nazi era, not only cultivated his relationships with "his" artists, including Max Beckmann and Ernst Wilhelm Nay, but also actively sought to sell their works to influential members of the economic élite of the time. After the war, he brokered purchases of major works of modern art by museums in Germany. Newly discovered sources as well as interviews with contemporary witnesses help shed light on how Franke managed to deal with and safeguard treasures of "degenerate art". The project is conducted by the art historian Dr. Felix Billeter, who has published widely regarded studies on artists including Max Beckmann and Hans Purrmann as well as the art trade in Munich. It is coordinated by Dr. Andrea Bambi of the Department for Provenance Research at the Bavarian State Picture Collections in cooperation with Dr. Irene Netta, Head of Collections Archives and Art Provenance Research at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus. The Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation supports the project with a grant. Dr. Felix Billeter’s findings will be published in the spring of 2017; the book, with contributions by Dr. Andrea Bambi, Dr. Axel Drecoll, PD Dr. Christian Fuhrmeister / Dr. Meike Hopp, Dr. Gesa Jeuthe, and Dr. Irene Netta, will appear in the series Schriften der Forschungsstelle "Entartete Kunst" (vol. 11).
Provenance research at a museum is always closely connected to the critical examination of the museum’s own history as an institution and collection. The Lenbachhaus looks back on a history spanning more than eight decades. Its collections archives preserve historic documents that are indispensable to provenance research and the scholarly study of the museum’s history and its holdings.
For an overview of past publications, seminars, and lectures, please see here.
Dr. Irene Netta
Tel. +49 89 233 82619
Fax + 49 89 233 82693
irene.netta (at) muenchen.de
Sarah Bock M.A.
T +49 (0)89 233 82640
F + 49 (0)89 233 82693
sarah.bock (at) muenchen.de