My observations are based - beside my own experiences - on conversations I had the last weeks about the subjects with independant and institutional experts and cover the period of the last 2 years and the following three fields:
1. Provenance research
The perception of the different experts about the current situation in Germany differs considerably. In general terms one can say that independent experts believe that nothing has really moved forward and proceedings are as complex, time and money consuming as always. From public institutions the evaluation is more positiv in particular with regard to provenance research.
All experts agree that work in restitution has become more professional: lectures for art historians and lawyers at universities have started, more institutions untertake provenance research of theirs collections. But they also confirm that an awareness-building process should pushed more as they observe still ignorance at a number of local institutional bodies of museums.
The decision of the Supreme Court in the Hans Sachs -case (see below) will mark the future legal discussion. Following an unhappy general development in political life in Germany - here again political responsibility is avoided by legislative authority (here: restitution law as it was possible in Austria) and given to judiciary,
As a more general comment I would like to add that the discussion about nazi-looted art is for various reasons still too often limited to restitution claims. A substantial reflection about possible "just and fair"-solutions and moral aspects is left to idealists.
1. Provenance research
The German "Bureau for Provenance Investigation & Research" is getting an increasing number of applications from museums, archives and other public bodies for financial support for short and long term provenance research. More information about the Bureau, it's functions, history and statistics see www.arbeitsstelle-provenienzforschung.de
Although between 2008 and mai 2011 fundings had been allocated to more than 100 projects of about 65 institutions, this number has to be seen in relation to the total number of public museums in Germany of about 5000.
The research for archives, libraries, scientific and other then art collections has become a new or/and more relevant field of provenance research (see f.e., University of Göttingen, German Leather and Wine museum).
The international project "German Sales 1930-1945" is an substantial step to promote provenance research in making accessible online all German, Swiss and Austrian auction catalogues of that period. The project is financed by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities and in which cooperate Kunstbibliothek der Staatlichen Museen Berlin, University Heidelberg, Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and the Bureau for Provenance Investigation&Reserach (www.ub.uni-heidelberg.de)
A number of restitutions took place in Germany, the following cases are mentioned for some particularities they have.
Hans Sachs poster collection
The Supreme Court has fixed the date of the hearing now on February 10, 2012. The case is worth mentioning for 3 reasons:
- one of the few cases that were brought to the German Advisory Commission
- the only case where one party did not accept the recommendation of the Commission and has started litigation afterward
- the Supreme Court has to decide about the legal relationship between the Special restitution laws and the Civil law and the application of prescription/ statute of limitation-rules
www.bundesgerichtshof.de (Press release 152/11, 29.09.2011, file number V ZR 279/10)
The Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues (BADV) has restituted to the heirs of the Hungarian Jewish Family Herzog three paintings from public museums in Germany.www.badv.bund.de (see "offene Vermögensfragen" - "Provenienz" - "Provenienzdokumentation") This case is remarkable as Germany has for the first time restituted art works that were considered as objects of a forced sale due to antisemitic persecution of theirs former owners - although the sale took place outside of Nazi-Germany, in Hungary in 1942, and before German occupation began.
A collection of Egyptian artifacts unearthed 96 years ago by Jewish Egyptologist Georg Steindorff and forcibly sold under the Nazis will remain at the University of Leipzig.
The agreement worked out between the university and the Claims Conference follows public protests against a recent Berlin court order that the objects be handed over to the Claims Conference. The university will keep the collection and, instead of paying compensation, will devote time and funds toward a documentation of the life and work of Steindorff, who was appointed chair of the Egyptology department in 1893.
Steindorff retired in 1934. Under the Nazi regime, he was forced to sell his private collection at a lower price; the university has owned the collection since 1937. Steindorff's grandson argued that the objects should remain at the institute that his grandfather had cherished.
Prior to the agreement the Egyptian Minister for Antiquities had also contacted the Claims Conference demanding that the objects be returned to Egypt.
Nazi-looted non jewish property
Most recently 70 books, looted from the Socialdemocratic Party during Nazi-era returned from Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin to the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation.
ICOM-WIPO "Art and Cultural Heritage Mediation Program"
http://icom.museum (see "our actions")
The most substantial juridical article of the last time was published in may 2011 by the judge Friedrich Kiechle
"Kunst und Restitution - Zu einigen Aspekten des Umgangs mit Kunst und des künstlerischen Umgangs mit Recht" NJOZ 2011, 193, www.beck-online.beck.de
The author shows the history and structure of the Allied and Federal German Restitution laws and the various legal problems that claimants and museums will have to confront also in future if the Parliament doesn't give a clear legal basis for restitution claims. As this seems to be quite unrealistic in the near future Kiechle offers an interesting compromise.