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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Panel to right Nazi wrongs
The Three Stages of Life
Handed back: The Three Stages of Life
The government is to set up an advisory panel to investigate claims for the return of art looted by the Nazis from Jewish owners during the war.

Members of the Spoliation Advisory Panel will have the power to settle disputes.

But there will be no legislation brought in to ensure artworks are returned.

Anne Webber, chairwoman on the Commission on Looted Art, said she was disappointed the government had not taken a stronger stance.

"It appears this procedure will leave Britain completely out of line with the rest of the world," she told The Guardian.

More than 350 works

The panel will consider claims arising anywhere in the UK.

Question-marks surround more than 350 paintings and sculptures hanging in British museums and galleries.

Arts minister Alan Howarth will announce the terms of the panel when he replies to a parliamentary question on Thursday.

Our commitment to right these historical wrongs should not be doubted

Alan Howarth
He indicated in The Guardian that the resolution of claims could include restitution of the work of art, financial compensation, or moral recompense by displaying the object's history next to it.

"If the panel recommend restitution - and both the claimant and present owner accept the judgement - the government will take the panel's recommendation very seriously indeed," Mr Howarth wrote.

He said the government remained committed to "righting these historical wrongs".

But British galleries are prevented under current British law from disposing of art that they hold in trust for the nation.

"It may well not be a straightforward matter to identify just solutions," said the minister.

"Whatever wrongs were done in the Nazi era, works of art were - we should start by assuming - acquired in good faith and have probably been held for the public benefit for considerable periods."

Painful matters

He stressed the new panel would have to deal with sensitive and emotive matters that "remain horribly painful to the families who may have suffered, among other unspeakable things, the looting of cherished and valuable possessions".

A nationwide audit is currently under way to investigate exactly how many artworks are suspected of being looted by the Nazis.

During the period 1933 to 1945, it is believed the Nazis oversaw the looting of hundreds of thousands of paintings and sculptures.

The World Jewish Congress estimates that about 110,000 artworks remain unaccounted for.

Picasso's Weeping Woman
Suspicion surrounds Picasso's Weeping Woman
In London's Tate Gallery alone, around 80 paintings are suspected of having a Nazi provenance.

These include Paul CÚzanne's The Avenue of the Jas de Bouffan, Picasso's Head of a Woman and his Weeping Woman.

Rightful return

Some paintings have already been handed back to their original heirs.

In March, London's Royal Academy returned The Three Stages of Life by Count Leopold von Kalckreuth to the descendants of Elizabeth Gotthilf, who fled Vienna in the wake of the Nazi invasion.

The picture had been on loan from the Neue Pinakothek gallery in Munich.

It became the first work exhibited in Britain to become the object of restitution by The Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

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See also:

26 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Brushing out the taint of looted art
04 Jun 99 | UK
Stolen Nazi art returned
02 Mar 99 | Entertainment
National Gallery investigates Nazi links
04 Dec 97 | Nazi Gold
The greatest theft in history
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