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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 07:44 GMT


National Gallery investigates Nazi links

London's National Gallery: Investigating its collection

The National Gallery is checking the history of 120 of its paintings to see if they were looted by the Nazis.

Akhtar Khan: The Art Loss Register keeps a database of art looted during the Nazi era
Works by Monet, Degas and Picasso are on a list published in the latest edition of specialist journal The Art Newspaper.

The London-based gallery says it has not been able to find details about what happened to the paintings during the Nazi era.

Eight works under suspicion

It is hoping to obtain the missing information from members of the public but believes that suspicion surrounds no more than eight works.

David Lee, Editor, Art Review: "The gallery brought works in good faith"
These are: two landscapes by Claude Monet, a seascape by Willem van de Velde, a crucifixion by Eugene Delacroix, a still life of apples by Gustave Courbet, a flowerpiece by Ambrosius Bosschaert, a woman's portrait by an imitator of Gonzales Coques and a depiction of Cleopatra by an unknown 16th-century French artist.

These either belonged to collections outside the UK during the Nazi period, or were sold by Parisian dealers now suspected of collaborating with German occupation forces.

The search is part of an agreement made in December at a 44-nation conference organised by the US.

No return

But Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery, warned that even if paintings were found to have been looted, they could not be handed back to their rightful owners.

"In law we can't transfer title. So we can't give a painting back to an individual but the individual might want compensation," he said.

He said he thought it unlikely that many, if any of the paintings, would turn out to have been looted.

"We are doing this so anyone who might have a claim can see what is in the National Gallery.

"But we should keep a sense of proportion; my hunch is that only very few works will turn out to be open to dispute."

Measures to combat art fraud

On Tuesday the art trade in the UK also announced new measures against the multi-million pound industry in stolen antiques.

Two new voluntary codes recommend steps that can help ensure auctioneers and dealers do not buy or sell stolen goods.

A study by the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft of 150 historic properties open to the public revealed that antiques worth nearly £15m had been stolen in five years and only 7% had been recovered.

The council has developed the codes with the backing of the Home Office, heritage bodies and the police.

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