Stockholm museum in row over Nazi loot

Stockholm museum in row over Nazi loot
Emil Nolde: Blumengarten, 1917
A Stockholm art gallery is being accused of holding on to a painting looted by the Nazis despite demands from its original owners for it to be returned.

The painting, Emil Nolde’s ‘Blumengarten’ (the Flower Garden), currently hangs in Stockholms Moderna Museet. It was taken by the Nazis in 1938 or 1939 after its owner, Jewish businessman Otto Nathan Deutsch, was forced to flee Frankfurt.

A removal company charged with sending the painting on from Frankfurt told the family that it was destroyed in bombing raids. In fact, the painting survived the war and was bought by Moderna Museet in 1967.

Deutsch family representatives requested the return of the painting in 2005. Moderna Museet said last summer that it planned to hand back the painting after the government directed it to solve the dispute. Despite this, the work remains in Sweden.

“Sweden’s failure to return the Blumengarten painting is an exception to the international norm that Nazi looted art in public museums should be returned without conditions to its rightful owners,” the Deutsch family’s lawyers said in a statement this week.

“In every single similar case in the United States, Germany, France, Austria and Canada they gave back Nazi looted art without conditions,” Deutsche family lawyer David Rowland told The Local.

The museum, however, says that the painting cannot be returned without compensation. Spokeswoman Maria Morberg says it presented a “just and fair” offer to the family last year, in which the picture would be returned “and that the museum will receive a certain percentage of the painting’s economic value.”

“The painting has been acquired with public means and cannot be returned without compensation.”

Morberg also points to the fact that the Deutsch family has already received compensation from the German government.

“Our opinion is that the compensation received corresponds to the painting’s value at the time.”

This is disputed by the David Rowland, who says the compensation paid by the German government “is not meant to be complete compensation for the value of the painting.”

Rowland says the Deutsch family has offered to pay the museum the price they paid for the painting, plus an indexed amount. He says the museum was also offered the chance to buy the painting from the Deutschs for less than its market value.

“What we don’t offer them is the chance to make a profit from this stolen painting.”

Procedures for the return of art looted by the Nazis is governed by an agreement signed at the 1998 Washington Conference. This stipulates that governments must ensure that looted art is dealt with in a “just and fair” manner. The Blumengarten case is the first time the Washington principles have been applied in Sweden.