Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation’s Provenance Research

Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation's Provenance Research

An independent report has critiqued the Bührle Foundation's provenance research as “not sufficient,” highlighting the omission of crucial information about the artworks' former Jewish owners. The report, authored by Raphael Gross and presented in Zurich, scrutinized five works and revealed that the histories of many Jewish collectors were barely mentioned. The foundation, associated with Emil Georg Bührle, who profited during WWII through arms sales to Nazi Germany and the acquisition of looted art, faces calls for more thorough research and ethical reassessment of its collection. This report has spurred discussions on the appropriateness of retaining Bührle's name for the collection and has led the museum to remove several artworks pending further investigation. Have you ever wondered how much we really know about the artworks housed in prestigious museums? Dive into the surprising findings of an independent report that criticized the E. G. Bührle Foundation's provenance research as “not sufficient.”

Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation's Provenance Research

Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation’s Provenance Research

An independent report recently uncovered that the E. G. Bührle Foundation's efforts in provenance research into its art collection were “not sufficient.” The report highlighted that the foundation's published findings had omitted crucial information about the former Jewish owners of many works.

The Author and the Report

Raphael Gross, president of the German Historical Museum, authored the 165-page report and presented it on June 28 in Zurich. His findings were commissioned by the canton and city of Zurich as well as the trustees of the Kunsthaus Zurich after critics accused the foundation of “white-washing” the provenance of certain .

Background on Emil Georg Bührle

Emil Georg Bührle, the foundation's namesake, built his fortune selling weapons to Nazi Germany. His wealth also came from forced labor in Nazi concentration camps and “welfare” Swiss institutions where women were forced to work. Moreover, Bührle was known to have purchased art looted by Nazi soldiers.

Investigation Findings

Gross and his research team investigated five works, uncovering that stories of numerous Jewish collectors linked to these works were “hardly mentioned” in the Bührle Foundation's provenance research. Key milestones in the histories of these works were overlooked:

  • Vincent van Gogh's “Head of a Peasant Woman” (1885)
  • Willem Kalf's “Nautilus bowl” (around 1600)
  • Paul Cezanne's landscape (around 1879)
  • Paul Gauguin's “The Street” (1884)
  • Cézanne's “Madame Cézanne with a Fan” (1879/1888)

Quote from Gross

“Without the Jewish collectors, the Bührle Collection would be a different one,” Gross said. “Or to put it another way: without persecution, the Bührle Collection would never have come into being.”

Recommendations from the Report

The report strongly recommended further provenance research and urged the Kunsthaus Zurich to establish a committee of professionals. This body would be responsible for determining how to handle items in the collection that were lost or confiscated due to Nazi persecution.

Renaming the Collection

The report also questioned the appropriateness of the Swiss art museum continuing to explicitly name the collection after Emil Georg Bührle. Gross argued this “dignifies his name and thus his entire collection,” while obscuring “the fate of the Jewish previous owners persecuted by Nazism.”

Next Steps

According to The Art Newspaper, Bührle's arms sales during World War II were so successful that he became the richest man in Switzerland. In 2012, the Bührle Foundation agreed to loan 205 works to Kunsthaus Zurich, a move that sparked criticism when exhibited in a new $210 million building extension in 2021. Artist Miriam Cahn even pulled her works from the institution in response.

Commissioned Report and Controversy

As controversies mounted, Zurich's city and canton, along with Kunsthaus' trustees, commissioned Gross to compile his report in May. Out of the 205 items in the Bührle collection, Gross identified 62 as previously belonging to Jewish owners during the Holocaust. These items had mostly been classified by the Bührle Foundation as “unproblematic” or having “no indication of problematic connections.” “Works with particularly incomplete provenance were classified as unproblematic,” the report said.

Official Statement

A press statement from the city and canton of Zurich and the Zurich Art Society stated they would comment on the report's initial conclusions and announce the next steps by mid-July. They expressed gratitude towards Gross and his team of experts “for their comprehensive and very valuable work.”

Response from the Bührle Foundation

In response to the report, the foundation's board told The Art Newspaper it “will examine the report and comment on it in due course.”

Immediate Actions

On June 14, the E. G. Bührle Collection Foundation announced it was seeking “fair and just” with the legal successors of the former owners for six works in its collection that were on display at the Kunsthaus Zurich. As a result, five of the paintings were removed from the Swiss museum on June 20.

Reassessment and Best Practices

The museum's board of trustees reassessed the provenance of these six works following the publication of the new “Best Practices” for dealing with Nazi-looted art, published by the US State Department in March 2024. These “Best Practices” expand on the Washington Principles agreed upon by representatives of 44 nations and 13 non-governmental organizations in December 1998.

Works Under Scrutiny

The reassessed works include:

Artist Work Title Year
Gustave Courbet “Portrait of the Sculptor Louis-Joseph” 1863
Claude Monet Painting of his garden in Giverny 1895
Vincent van Gogh “The Old Tower” 1884
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Portrait of Georges-Henri Manuel 1891
Paul Gauguin “La route montante” 1884

The reassessment news was first reported by The Art Newspaper.

Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation's Provenance Research

Conclusion: A Call for and Integrity

The independent report brings to significant lapses in the provenance research conducted by the E. G. Bührle Foundation. It highlights the necessity of further, more transparent research to fully understand the histories of these works of art. If museums and foundations are to uphold integrity and , especially concerning artworks with problematic histories, more comprehensive efforts must be made. This involves not only recognizing the dark chapters of their acquisitions but also committing to ethical practices in showcasing and attributing these works.

The Bührle controversy serves as a potent reminder of the importance of thorough provenance research and ethical responsibility in the art world. It challenges public institutions, art historians, and collectors alike to reflect on their moral and ethical stances, ensuring that the true stories behind the art are not lost but instead faithfully preserved for future generations.

See The Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation's Provenance Research In Detail.

Independent Report Criticizes Bührle Foundation's Provenance Research

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