When the Nazis invaded France in May 1940, they confiscated (i.e. stole) between 100,000 and 300,000 pieces of art from Jewish dealers and collections. Their plundering continued up until the last days of World War II, and included paintings, ceramics, gold, silver, and other items of great cultural significance. The stolen paintings represented some of the most important periods in art history in the 20th century: Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and much more. When the war was over, many of the stolen paintings were found by the Monuments Men, agents of France’s Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives program. They were discovered in underground tunnels, caves, salt mines, confiscated mansions, and even on the estate of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. These treasures were given to France’s museums, who displayed some and sold more in order to finance their continued operation.
Since the end of the war, some Jewish family survivors have attempted to have the artwork stolen from their families returned, but this has been a very difficult and drawn-out process. Many museums throughout the world purchased these paintings, and have exhibited them proudly for generations. The majority of museums and private buyers have resisted returning artwork and making restitution to the descendents of the original owners. France had kept approximately 25% of the items that were found, sold 13,000 of these pieces to beef up the French Treasury, and distributed the rest to various French Museums.
Today France has had a change of heart. They would like to find the rightful owners of these pieces, but do not have the funds to hire researchers to do intensive searches. Enter the legendary French journalist Anne Sinclair. She is a daughter of the famous art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Many of her grandfather’s most prized paintings were stolen by Hermann Göring, Adolph
Hitler’s highest ranking right-hand man. Her family has worked tirelessly since 1959 to recover the paintings stolen from her grandfather. She opened an exhibit in Paris at the Musée Maillol on February 23, 2017, which consists of 66 20th century modernist masterpieces that had passed at one time through the gallery of her grandfather. She hopes that by displaying her family’s recovered masterpieces that she will encourage both the French government and other individuals to search for family members to return looted art from World War II.
Anne Sinclair hopes that this exhibition of once-looted art from her family will serve as a warning and an eye-opener to the Europe of today – that we must be ever vigilant and fight against atrocities perpetrated against us by Nazis and Fascists who intended to destroy all European civilization with their looting. They especially considered early 20th-century art as evil and decadent, and they wanted to attack and destroy it. This exhibit is not only about preserving one family’s memories. Instead, it is meant to show the resilience and the beauty of these once stolen artistic masterpieces. By displaying “just a sliver” of artworks that were stolen from Paris during World War II, Sinclair hopes to reacquaint current day Europeans who are forgetting what happened during the Holocaust and WWII with the artistic heritage of their past.