Unfair Park has a very interesting, hot-off-the-presses-kind of story about Robert Edsel — the author of Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men, both books about the Allied efforts to retrieve artworks that the Nazis looted. Edsel declares he’s found a pair of stolen paintings — at SMU’s Meadows Museum. They’re by Murillo, the Spanish Baroque master, and Edsel believes they were stolen from the Rothschild family in 1941.
But Unfair Park then updated the post with a response from Mark Roglan, director of the Meadows. And Unfair Park boils down Roglan’s letter as saying “everyone’s always known these were pieces confiscated by the Nazis.”
Actually, that’s not exactly what the letter says. Roglan says that, as part of the Meadows’ commitment to share information, it has a provenance page, and said page states that if you click on the entry for the appropriate painting, you get the full provenance spelled out. Which is true. And he says that you will find Edsel thanked for his efforts. Which is also true.
Possibly Marqués de Villamanrique, Seville (?); Rothschild Family Collection, Paris (before 1941); Confiscated by the Nazi ERR in Paris from Rothschild Collection, inventory nos. R 1170, R 1171 (1941); (Justa) ERR Buxheim (1945); (Rufina) Munich Central Collecting Point under Allied Control (1945-46); Likely restituted to Rothschild family (after 1946)*; [Art Market, Paris] (1967); H. Schickman Gallery, New York (by 1972); Meadows Museum, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 20 September 1972.
And then the provenance page says this:
*We are indebted to Mr. Robert M. Edsel and Ms. Patricia A. Teeter for providing the Rothschild and Nazi-era information.
What follows is the original provenance, and it didn’t include any of the Nazi-era info.
In other words, Roglan isn’t saying that the Meadows always knew.
Roglan is saying that the Meadows isn’t hiding anything. although it’s clear that the museum isn’t exactly issuing happy press releases. But it’s grateful to Mr. Edsel for bringing this info to its attention. In fact, the PRNewswire breaking news report that started all this says pretty much the same thing:
Mr. Edsel also brought to the attention of University officials the importance of observing the [guidelines of official art museum associations and international agreements] governing the identification of works of art stolen by the Nazis, particularly those concerning the need to research the provenance of works of art that could have been subject to Nazi looting, and then publishing those research results. He urged them, and other University officials, to make a joint announcement about these findings to serve as a source of encouragement for all museums to comply with these important guidelines. The Meadows Museum’s recent update to its website now makes a definitive statement in support of those guidelines.
But — and this is the key phrase in Roglan’s letter, the real issue for the future and how the museum might or might not proceed — “Neither Mr. Edsel nor his associates has ever presented SMU with any evidence that would question whether the paintings were properly restituted.”
Update from Unfair Park, which contacted Edsel: Essentially, Edsel is bothered by the Meadows’ slow and lackluster response (it took them two and a half years to post the information he provided them?). He’s bothered by the museum’s statement that the paintings were “likely” restituted to the Rothschilds after 1946 — though he suspects that’s correct.
But that’s my speculation. What we don’t want to do is deal with what-ifs. We want to deal with documents, and we haven’t been able to find any documents to show that those paintings were returned to France or the Rothschilds. When you say ‘likely,’ that’s pretty tacit acknowledgement that they don’t know. And till we can see proof, those pictures are stolen.