Famous Zurich Collection Claimed to Be Nazi-Looted Art

A man experiences through a 3-D and virtual reality exhibition the story of the Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, top right, that was taken by Napoleon as loot in 1806, the story of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait from 1669 which belonged to the Jewish Rathenau family but was confiscated by Nazis during World War II, together with eight other looted objects, at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

A new report has revealed troubling findings within Switzerland’s renowned Bührle Collection, indicating that numerous artworks may have been stolen from Jewish owners during the Holocaust. This investigation has reignited debates about the ethical duties of museums and art collectors in confronting the complex legacy of Nazi-era art theft.

The report, led by German historian Raphael Gross, indicates that many pieces in the Bührle Collection likely originated from Jewish collections looted by the Nazis. Gross concluded that the curators did not sufficiently investigate the provenance of the works.

The Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung claims that Emil Bührle, the collection’s founder, was known for acquiring artworks through dubious means, including buying entire collections from German citizens during the war. Gross stated emphatically, “Without the Jewish collections, or to put it differently, without the persecution of Jews, this collection would never have been created.”

The report details how industrialist Emil Bührle built his wealth by selling arms to Nazi Germany and exploiting forced labor from concentration camp detainees. From 1936 to 1956, Bührle amassed his art collection, which includes about 600 works by famous artists. This period coincided with a time when the art market was flooded with pieces stolen from Jewish collectors or sold under duress at significantly reduced prices.

Gideon Taylor, President of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), called for action in light of these findings. “We urge other institutions to follow Zurich’s example and adopt the working methods on looted art that we published in March in collaboration with the US State Department,” Taylor said.

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