Switzerland's Zurich Kunsthaus Museum Has Art Work to Bührle, Which Belonged to Jews During World War ll #holocaust #announcements

Jan Meisels Allen



A new, $220-million extension to the Kunsthaus Zurich, left, faces the museum’s original 19th-century building across a central Zurich square. Credit...©Luxwerk, Zurich


The Zurich Kunthaus Museum became the largest art museum in Switzerland with a new extension which includes the masterpieces once owned by Emil Georg Bührle, a Swiss industrialist who died in 1956 but whose dark legacy haunted the opening of the new $220-million extension. Bührle made his fortune by selling arms to Nazi Germany, and that he bought art that was looted by the regime, new revelations keep emerging.


The Swiss magazine “Beobachter, reported that Bührle employed hundreds of girls and young women from troubled backgrounds in slave-labor-like conditions in Switzerland as late as the 1950s. This month, the magazine said that in 1941, Bührle snapped up two Swiss spinning mills at bargain prices after their previous owners — Jews whose assets in Germany had been “aryanized” in forced sales — had fled to Argentina.”


“Now, 203 artworks belonging to the Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, an organization set up by the industrialist’s family after his death, have entered the Kunsthaus collection on a 20-year loan. About 170 are on show in the new extension.


During World War II, his company produced weapons for both the Allies and Nazi Germany, and Bührle became the richest man in Switzerland. Though the Allies put his company on a blacklist after the war, the boycott was lifted in 1946 and the business continued to expand.


Between 1936 and 1956, Bührle bought more than 600 artworks — some of them looted from Jews by the Nazis. In 1948, the Swiss Supreme Court ordered him to return 13 pieces.


The Bührle Foundation itself began conducting provenance research in 2002, and the results are published on the foundation’s website (https://www.buehrle.ch/sammlung/) , though there is no detailed ownership history on the labels next to the paintings on display in the Kunsthaus.


Lukas Gloor, the director of the Bührle Foundation, said in an interview that ‘today, we can be sure that there is no looted art, in the strictest sense, in the collection,’ but added, ‘we do not rule out the possibility that new information could come to light.’


One such work is an 1879 Cézanne work, ‘Paysage,’ The foundation’s website doesn’t mention that its prewar owners, Martha and Berthold Nothmann, were Jewish; it says the couple ‘left Germany in 1939,’ instead of spelling out that they fled persecution.


Monet’s 1880 ‘Poppy Field Near Vétheuil’ is another contested work. Bührle bought it in 1941 at a Swiss gallery for less than half its market value, according to a 2012 report by the historian Thomas Buomberger. It had been offered for sale by Hans Erich Emden, the son of a German Jewish department-store mogul whose assets in Germany were expropriated by the Nazis after he moved to Switzerland. The foundation rejected a claim from Emden’s heirs, arguing that the sale was not a result of Nazi persecution. Gloor said that cases in which German Jews sold assets while exiled in Switzerland should not necessarily be considered sales under duress. “Switzerland was not German-occupied; there was no persecution in Switzerland,” he said. ‘People were free to sell, or not sell.’


With the collection’s move to the Kunsthaus, responsibility for provenance research now rests with the museum, though any restitution decision would fall to the foundation as the owner, Gloor said.”

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Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee