Last week saw the much anticipated conference, “70 Years and Counting: The Final Opportunity?” organised by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and sponsored by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. Over 200 claimants, government representatives, advisors, members of the judiciary, lawyers, provenance researchers, members of the art trade and others involved in restitution matters, gathered at the National Gallery on 12th September 2017 to discuss shared experiences, issues in relation to the return of Nazi-era looted art and recommendations for achieving fair and just solutions and accelerating efforts to recover collections at this late date.
Four expertly chaired sessions covered topics including the experience of claimants and institutions, the effectiveness of the claims processes in the five European countries that have established panels to consider claims (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, France and Germany), the progress that has been made in relation to provenance research and the barriers to information sharing, how private collectors can ensure their collections are not problematic and how claimants can face the challenges of making claims for the return of artworks.
The opening remarks included a keynote address from John Glen MP, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Tourism, who confirmed two legal developments that are of importance to cases involving the restitution of Nazi era looted art but also to the trade in, and return of, cultural property unlawfully exported from occupied territory. The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which gives national institutions the power, subject to certain conditions, to de-accession and transfer an object from its collections to a victim of Nazi era looting, will no longer expire in 2019 but will be extended indefinitely to allow claims to be made to the Spoliation Advisory Panel. Moreover, the Government has formally underlined its commitment to protecting cultural property in times of war by ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention and acceding to its two Protocols.
Themes presented at the National Gallery conference were continued the following day, with a seminar titled “Nazi-Looted Art: From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation”, organised by the Centre for Commercial Law Studies and the Institute of Art and Law. Gregor Kleinknecht of Hunters participated in the panel discussion and spoke about his practical experience in acting on behalf of claimants in restitution matters.