What subjects from Russian museums are foreign states claim
On November 16, the State Museum Collections of Dresden (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, SKD) opened at once in several of their museums an exhibition with the philosophical name “Kunstbesitz. Kunstverlust. Objekte und ihre Herkunft ”-“ Art: possession and loss. Objects and their origin. The works of art selected for her can be seen at the Palace-Residence until the end of March (where guests will be reminded of how the massive abduction of art objects from Dresden during Nazi times was organized), Albertinum, the Porcelain Collection and the Old Masters Gallery. A total of about 60 works are shown – lost and returned paintings, drawings, graphics, porcelain, majolica, furniture, board games, bronze sculptures and silver.
“The exhibition is dedicated to the theme of the origin of objects of art, their owners and owners,” said the exhibition’s curator, Professor Gilbert Lupfer, who has been involved in displaced values for many years. “Artifacts can change owners for various reasons, be it a purchase, a gift, confiscation, theft — or restitution,” says the art historian. “The issues of ownership and the origin of works of art have a political, legal, moral and emotional dimension. And our exhibition just shows the different contexts of displacement – from the confiscations and thefts of valuable objects under the National Socialists in 1933-1945 to the expropriation of property of the nobility after 1945 and the return of war trophies during the GDR. ”
Following this logic, viewers are shown objects that have fallen into the museum collection over the past 70 years. Something returned purposefully, other stories look like random finds. For example, Charles Gutenin’s “The Reading Girl” was found in a locker room at Berlin’s East Station in 1950, and the male portrait of Lukas Cranach the Elder that was considered lost was “surfaced” in 1958 at Christie’s in London. The museum says that they use all the available legal and political opportunities to replenish lost artifacts, and where this is not possible, they are trying, together with local researchers, to work on their study and monitor their integrity.
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At the same time, speaking of the displaced objects, in Dresden they do not forget about the exhibits that came into the collection even before the Second World War – most often these are trophies of colonial campaigns of the XIX-XX centuries. According to Mr. Lupfer, disputes about them are now being conducted in many European countries. “In this case, it is not always about restitution, but at a minimum – about transparency, accessibility, opportunities for information and research, as well as fair and open dealing with the country or collection from which the object came.” There are unusual cases – for example, human remains preserved in museum collections. SKD, like many other museums in Germany, seeks to return them to their homeland, if she expresses such a desire. For example, last year the remains of ancient burial places, exported to the Old World at the end of the 19th century, went to Hawaii; next in line are inquiries from New Zealand and Australia.
To its current location, many pieces of art have gone through many stages and detours. Their fate is often a reflection of historical events, twists of the twentieth century: the iniquity of the Nazis, the transfer of trophies, land reforms and collectivization, ”says a German researcher.
Now the occasion for the organization of the exhibition served several anniversaries. First, the 60th anniversary of the full return to the Dresden Gallery of works of art from the Soviet Union. In March 1955, Moscow announced the transfer of work from the Old Masters Gallery in Dresden to the GDR. Among the 1240 paintings – the famous “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael, as well as Titian, Durer, Rubens, Rembrandt. By 1958, the paintings returned to Saxony.
Secondly, the 20th anniversary of the so-called Washington Principles – agreed in 1998 by 44 countries “Principles of the Washington Conference on Works of Art, Seized by National Socialists” laid the foundation for the return of collections scattered around the world.
Thirdly, the ten-year launch of the Daphne project in SKD, under which systematic studies of the origin of the lost and displaced objects of art, both from Dresden and Dresden, began to be carried out under the leadership of Professor Lupfer. “This work is possible only if there is an intensive exchange with colleagues, including from Russia,” the professor said. “For example, with the support of the Getty Foundation, Dresden is working on a common project with Russian museums (primarily Pushkin and the Hermitage).”
However, he notes that in the 20th century, the restitution process did not stop. For example, several paintings were sent from Russia to Dresden in 2001. At the same time on the margins of the Russian-German consultations in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin handed over to Chancellor Schroeder the Portrait of a Hayduk in a High Hat by Christophe Paudiss.