Thursday 28 June 2012

Göring's art collection goes online

This painting by Picasso "Woman's head" belonging 
to Göring's collection shows a rare deviation towards 
"degenerate art", very different from his usual taste. 

Hermann Wilhelm Göring is mostly remembered as a leading member of the Nazi party during Hitler's Third Reich: commander of the Storm Troopers, founder of the Gestapo, crusher of all opposition, creator of the Reich’s modern Luftwaffe, master of the Four-Year Plan and the man in charge of commissioning a “total solution of the Jewish problem.” Though, he should also be considered as one of the greatest art collector and art thief in history. 

Göring was simultaneously a classic esthete and a passionate art collector. Upon joining the Reichstag for the Nazi Party in 1928, which provided the unemployed pilot with a regular income, Göring began purchasing artworks on the open market. When war broke out, he set up a commission which the occupied territories for new trophies, increasingly confiscating valuable works from Jewish families and other supposed enemies of the regime, so collecting thousands of works, including some 1,800 paintings.

Last week, the German Historical Museum, the German Federal Archive, and the Federal Agency for Central Services and Open Property Issues (BADV) placed  Göring's vast collection of bought and stolen artworks online for the world to examine and, whenever possible to identify.

Many of these artworks, particularly from the medieval and renaissance periods, ended up on the walls on display of Göring’s Carinhall palace in the north district of Berlin. It was the largest collection in the Third Reich after Hitler’s immense plundered collection for the planned post-victory “Führermuseum” in Linz.

After Germany’s defeat and Göring’s capture and later suicide, his collection was evacuated to Bavaria and then fell into the hands of the US Army, which began working with German authorities to restore it to its legal owners. The German government assumed complete control over the collection in 1949. According to a proclamation issued in London in 1943, all deeds of sale generated in the occupied countries, where the works were often sold to Göring’s art team for a trivial amount of money, were declared null and void.

In 1998, the Washington Declaration on Nazi-Confiscated Art called for public institutions in forty-four countries, including Germany, to re-examine their art inventories

Even though most of the works in Göring’s collection have been restored to private persons and public art galleries, the legal situation is extremely complex. For example, many wealthy Jewish families had to sell their art collections in a hurry. Who really owned them then, and who owns them now?

Finally, many of the objects were plundered after Göring had the entire collection shipped down to Berchtesgaden in three special trains during the last days of the war. Assuming that some of these works are still hanging on private citizens’ walls or in local galleries, who actually owns them?

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