Between 1933 and 1945, the Third Reich stole thousands of priceless art works from art dealers in German occupied countries. Jewish artists and art dealers had their collections confiscated or were forced to sell their works under duress and at under market prices. Many pieces art, the ones Hitler didn’t care for, were auctioned to raise money for the German war effort. Other works, especially those by Old Masters and Germanic artists, were systematically looted and stored until they could be displayed in the epic Führermuseum, destined to be built in Linz, Austria.
This museum was never built, but when the war ended the Allies discovered massive hidden caches of art in German and Austrian mines, including works by Michelangelo, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Dürer, Monet, Caravaggio, Rubens, da Vinci, and many more. In many cases, repatriating all this art was extremely difficult since the Holocaust had claimed many of the previous owners. Thousands of pieces of art went on to be sold to museums around the world. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is one of those museums and due to recent claims by the heirs of the original owners of several art works owned by the museum, these works have become the subjects of court cases.
The museum has been proactive and set up a Nazi Era Provenance Research group in 1998 for European art that may, or may not, have been looted by the Nazis or sold to them under duress. Our tour of the MFA will bring this fascinating story of intrigue, theft and persecution to light. Within the MFA collection, we can see examples of art that was declared Degenerate by the Nazis and banned, confiscated, auctioned and in some cases destroyed. But we can also see examples of art that was greatly coveted by the Nazi elite (specifically Hitler and Hermann Göring) and either looted or bought at forced sales and auctions. Our tour will conclude with a look at MFA owned works which have been suspected of having been looted by the Nazis and the Rothschild Collection, which is a grouping of art works, books, and cultural objects owned by the Rothschild family of Vienna before WWII, stolen by the Nazis after the annexation of Austria, and returned to the family after the war. A portion of this massive collection has been donated to the MFA by the Rothschild heirs and is now on permanent exhibition.
Your guide, Dr. Lauren Fogle, is a medievalist and history professor, but also the author of The Altarpiece, a work of historical fiction centering on the Nazi theft of the famed Ghent Altarpiece. She also teaches a course entitled Art and the Nazis at the University of Massachusetts.