Et tu, Poland?! Poland seeks return of 18 paintings taken by the Soviet Red Army in 1945

‘Madonna and Child’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder, sought by
 Poland for recovery from the Pushkin Museum.

The Russian Federation should beware all Ides. This Ides of May, on May 15, 2013, Poland’s Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Bogdan Zdrojewski, broached the subject of recovering important art works from Russian museums. The works in question are listed in the “official restitution request by Poland;” they include paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Jan Bruegel the Elder.  Some pieces are located in Moscow in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and others are in the Saratov State Art Museum.

These works probably belong to the so-called Twice Plundered victims; they were most likely taken by the Germans at the start of the war and then displaced for the second time by the victorious Red Army as spoils of war.

Bogdan Zdrojewski, photo by Matěj Baťha.

Some of the works were reported as being listed on museum websites as unidentified. Not surprisingly requests for the return of these cultural objects have been filed on a number of occasions but invariably they have been dismissed. In light of the improving relations between Poland and the Russian Federation, Zdrojewski is hoping for a different, more amiable outcome.

The immediate response from the Russian Cultural Ministry is a categorical no. As always, there is a block against this and all returns of artworks, or other cultural valuables, that were brought onto the territory of the Soviet Union after World War II. For example, Zdrojewski’s counterpart, Vladimir Medinski, has been quoted as saying that any and all efforts to change the property rights of cultural valuables and artworks in Russia would be unwelcome, particularly because the trophy art taken from the territory of Germany and its allies was “paid for in blood of the Russian soldiers.”

Vladimir Medinski, Newsru.com.

Medinski bases his response on the 1998 law “On Cultural valuables Displaced to the USSR as a Result of the Second World War and Located on the Territory of the Russian Federation” which nationalizes trophy art and declines return. However, Medinski admitted that the Ministry would be ready to faithfully execute favorable restitution laws if such were ever adopted. Given that there is are no known domestic initiative to alter the 1998 law and initiatives by the foreign nations have been futile, it is unlikely that Poland will get it’s most recent request granted.

Other pending claims for cultural property located on the territory of the Russian Federation include the ongoing Chabad efforts* and the Hungarian claims.

Sources: Newsru.comArtDaily; Global Post.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia.

*For an overview of the Chabad dispute, read “Russia is no Congo: Chabad Decisions and Moscow Convictions.”

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