Any German museum that refuses to go to a national advisory commission on Nazi-looted art could be ineligible for federal government funding. This is among several changes from culture minister Claudia Roth aimed at increasing the powers of the national panel, according to a report from the Art Newspaper.
But the changes have not been accepted readily everywhere in Germany—particularly in the state of Bavaria.
The changes include a shift in how disputes over contested works are submitted to the national advisory commission. Roth wants to change it so that only one party is needed to submit a dispute to the panel, rather than the current situation where both sides need to agree to the submission—a major reason why there have only been 23 recommendations from the advisory commission in two decades.
However, any changes require agreement between the Germany culture ministry and its 16 states. According to the Art Newspaper, Bavaria’s culture minister, Markus Blume, “insists that any reform of the panel must be accompanied by a new restitution law for cultural property lost in the Nazi era.” Roth opposed this argument on the concern that “the new law will take too long to draft, negotiate and implement.”
It’s worth noting the country’s statutes of limitations for Nazi-looted cultural property currently include a version of “finder’s keepers”: someone who acquired an item in good faith has the legal right to keep it after ten years of possession. According to the Art Newspaper, Roth’s ministry is in discussion with justice and finance ministries to make a change to Germany’s civil code to lift this statute.
One of the most high-profile, ongoing disputes of Nazi-looted art in Germany also involves the Bavarian State Painting Collections for Pablo Picasso’s 1903 Portrait of Madame Soler, which was submitted to the national advisory panel by the heirs of the Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
The painting was taken down from display at the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich last March after Roth intervened over its disputed ownership.
“I expressly call on the Bavarian state government to finally clear the way for the Bavarian State Painting Collections to agree to an appeal to the Advisory Commission,” Roth told the Bavarian publication Süddeutsche Zeitung. “This is really overdue now,” she said, hinting at passing a new restitution law.
Prior to its removal, the portrait had been on display at the museum for almost six decades.