V&A told to return artworks by spoliation panel

Claim against British Library also supported
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Rebecca Atkinson
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The Spoliation Advisory Panel has published two reports supporting claims for objects held by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the British Library to be returned in accordance with the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act.

The V&A has been advised to offer to return three Meissen figures to the estate of the art collector Emma Budge. The panel found that following her death in 1937, Budge’s art collection was sold by the auction house Paul Graupe, and her family was deprived of the proceeds of the sale.

Budge, who was born in Hamburg but was an American citizen at the time of her death, stipulated in her will that some or all of her art collection should go to museums in Germany or abroad. As a result, the panel has invited the executor of her estate to consider whether one of the Meissen figures should remain in the possession of the V&A.

One of the figures was given to the museum by “Warder B.W Potts” in 1993, and was not known at the time to be from the Budge collection. The other two were gifts from Josa Finney of Rome, the wife of Oswald James Finney, following her death in 1983. The V&A said the circumstances of the sale of the collection in 1937 were not known until the 1990s.

The panel’s report states: “The V&A candidly concedes that […] the Budge sale constituted a sale below value and could be considered a forced sale. It also helpfully points out that several institutions in Germany, the US and Switzerland have returned items from the Budge collection.

“These figures are ‘significant and desirable parts’ of the [V&A’s] collection, which it would be unhappy to lose, but it concedes that it must ‘accept the primacy of the need for a legal and ethical response to Budge’s heirs’ claim’.”

The Spoliation Advisory Panel has also said that the British Library should return a painted wooden tablet or pay compensation to the heirs of the five Jewish shareholders of a Munich art gallery.  

The gallery’s entire contents, including the Biccherna Panel, were sold by the Aryanised Berlin auction house of Paul Graupe over two days in 1936 following an “extortionate” tax demand made by the German authorities on the gallery's shareholders.

The Biccherna Panel reappeared at auction again at Sotheby's in London in 1942 as part of the collection of Arthur Bendir, and was acquired by Henry Davis. It was donated to the British Museum in 1968 and, following Davis's death in 1977, formed part of a collection of bookbindings called the Henry Davis Gift that was transferred to the British Library.

In its report, the spoliation panel said it supported the claim for the work to be returned, but said that if the claimants agreed it would prefer it to remain in the British Library so it can remain freely accessible for research and display.

A spokesman for the British Library said it accepted the panel’s recommendation, but proposed to engage with the claimants with a view to retain the Biccherna Panel in its collection.



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