Shining a Light on Looted Art

The Jewish High School of Connecticut (“JHSC”) hosted a conference entitled “Shining a Light on Looted Art” on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at the Greenwich Hyatt.

The panelists, world renowned experts from the fields of restitution and recovery discussed the complexities of identifying and marketing art transferred from 1933-1945. The panelists described how the Nazis forced Jewish art dealers and collectors to either liquidate or relinquish their art collections and how these transfers have created uncertainty of ownership in the art world.  “This conference helped me understand the implications of looting in wartime,” said Alex Frenzel, a tenth grader at JHSC. “Until this conference, I did not understand the extent of Jewish involvement in the art world in Europe.” 

Each of the panelists has unique experience and perspective on these contemporary issues. Lucian Simmons, Senior VP Sotheby's, described how Sotheby’s works to resolve amicably issues of provenance. Victoria Reed, the only endowed curator of provenance in the country, discussed how she and other art historians track and uncover origins of paintings. Dr. Wesley Fisher gave an overview of the extent of the looting and government’s approaches to looted art. Irina Tarsis, the Director of the art law center skillfully moderated and discussed art registry.

The cinematic portrayal of stolen art during the Nazi period in the documentary “Rape of Europa”  and the popular film “The Monuments’ Men” and the narrative of the recovery of the Klimts in the recently released film “Woman in Gold”, starring Helen Mirrin, underscores the importance of these issues in the popular imagination.

In general, stolen or illegally obtained artworks have found their way into the US art market and then to museum or private collections. Twenty percent of all art in occupied Europe was looted and virtually all of the art owned by Jews or Jewish galleries was confiscated. Looting from the occupied countries, museums and private collections, the Nazis especially targeted Jewish owners, private Jewish collections and Jewish owned galleries.  After the war, the Allied command devoted resources and expertise to tracking and returning paintings and sculptures to their rightful owners. Over the last decade, there has been a change in the art world’s efforts to understand the ramification of stolen art and the necessity for provenance (history of ownership of artworks) research and restoration of ownership. With the uncovered stashes of looted materials so vast, however, and with Jewish owners murdered or lost in death and internment camps, most of these materials have yet to be reclaimed.

This program was part of JHSC’s “Power of One” series – a program designed to share diverse subjects with our students. JHSC is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools.  The school offers a superb co-curricular program in secular and Jewish studies. The school is the only high school in Connecticut located in a research site.

Jewish High School of Connecticut | 1937 West Main Street | Stamford, CT 06902 | 203-357-0850 | info@jhsct.org