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Louvre Launches Three-Year Restitution Research Effort Backed by Sotheby’s

The Louvre in Paris is conducting a three-year restitution research project focused on works that entered the museum’s collection between 1933 and 1945. As part of the initiative, which is being sponsored by Sotheby’s, the museum will produce a series of public programs related to restitution.

The deal allows funding from the auction house to be put toward ongoing research efforts at the Louvre that “could lead to restitutions,” the museum said in its announcement. The corporate funds will also support potential digitization of research resources, seminars and publications.

Sotheby’s restitution department was founded in 1997, making the auction house the first international one to dedicate a division to that area of research. The department conducts reviews of ownership records for works being considered for sale, often facilitating mediations between sellers and legal heirs that bring restituted works to public auction. The sponsorship deal marks the auction house’s “first formal partnership” with a major institution on the restitution front, a spokesperson for Sotheby’s Paris said in an email statement to ARTnews.

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In 2020, the museum commissioned historian Emmanuelle Polack to investigate some of the works in its collection which were acquired in the years leading up to and during World War II. He identified ten pieces in the museum’s holdings that had passed through the hands of a collector forced to flee Paris during Nazi occupation.

The first event scheduled to take place as part of the joint program is a series of dedicated to film screenings at the Louvre and seminars at the museum. A 2021 documentary focused on Polack’s research endeavors will be shown on January 27. A symposium on trades between owners of artworks under Vichy laws during the German occupation of France will take place on February 2.

Some 14,000 works will eligible to have their provenances examined through the arrangement. The works that will be investigated are managed by the Louvre and under the management of French national museums. These works are not designated under the National Museums Recovery (MNR), which maintains a list of artworks and artifacts that were recovered in Germany and returned to France. These works are under the temporary care of the state, but are not legally owned by the nation’s public collections and are therefore open to restitution claims.

Sotheby’s in-house restitution experts will not be involved in conducting research on the works under review, the auction house told ARTnews. The deal also does not stipulate that the house will facilitate potential restitutions. The Louvre did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s inquiry.

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