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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Australia checks for stolen Nazi art
National Gallery of Australia
Not much Nazi loot is thought to have reached Australia
The National Gallery in Australia says it is to check its entire collection for any art works which might have been stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis.

No claims of ownership have been made yet in Australia.

But the Canberra-based gallery has enlisted the help of a British expert to teach staff how to recognise the estimated 600,000 art works looted by the Nazis during World War II.


Australia is virtually the only country of which I am aware that has taken this issue by the horns

Art expert Norman Palmer
"It's a very painstaking and very careful and sensitive business... [but] it's the decent and proper thing to do," said gallery spokesman Ken Begg.

Australia's pre-eminent public collection began authenticating each of its works last year. It hopes to publish on the internet digital copies of works whose history is unclear, in an effort to clear up any historical gaps.

Norman Palmer, an art expert at London's University College, said Australia's endeavours set it apart from galleries in Europe and North America.

"Australia is virtually the only country of which I am aware that has taken this issue by the horns and confronted it squarely - without having any claims made against any Australian museums," Mr Palmer said.

Inquiries

It is thought only a trickle of art stolen in World War II reached Australia, with works in private collections or those borrowed by Australian museums from abroad more likely to have questionable origins.

However, a handful of art works with suspicious backgrounds have already been identified in two of Australia's largest state galleries.

It is estimated that the Nazis snatched more than a fifth of the world's Western art under Hitler - with the scale of theft so large that most museums are likely to house some of those works.

Galleries in North America and Europe have launched inquiries into hundreds of paintings which may have been looted by the Nazis. Disputed claims of ownership are rising as investigations into lost Holocaust assets increase.

See also:

30 May 01 | Scotland
Nazi loot theory to art works
18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Family compensated for Tate's Nazi art
21 Oct 00 | Europe
Nazi loot is won back
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