Rose Valland, on “the Art Front”

Coordination scientifique : Corinne Bouchoux

The Matteoli Commmission pays tribute to Rose Valland

Oeuvres Musées Nationaux Récupération du Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers

Works MNR of the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers, MUSEA, 2004, digital editing, 1000 x 1000 (px), © MUSEA, Université d'Angers.

In 1997, the musées nationaux de Paris et de province (nationwide national museums) organised a presentation of objets d’art “entrusted” to them after the war for want of a known owner. In parallel, the Working Party on the Spoliation of Jews in France under the Occupation, so called Mattéoli Mission after its chairman, a former Resistant and chair of the French Economic and Social Council was set up. When the second progress report was published in February 1999, the research outcomes stated the recovery of “10% of spoliated items among objets d’art returned from Germany after the Second World War and entrusted to the safekeeping of the national museums. Research are continuing.”

Although it cannot be said that MNR means “spoliated property”, it can no less be asserted that MNR has turned out to mean “no known owner”. A Sisyphean task was thus undertaken: the establishment for each MNR of a precise record of each work’s history. The research encompassed “900 files containing the Artistic Recovery Commission’s documents kept in the Archives of the ministère des Affaires étrangères”.

2,143 artifacts are to date in the safekeeping of the Musées nationaux – the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers thus conserves eight MNR works. In France half of those are paintings, a third decorative artifacts and the rest includes drawings, sculptures, ancient, Eastern or popular art items. As regards to their origin, 10% were spoliated, 65% were allegedly purchased on the Paris market (under varied circumstances) and 25% had an unknow or mis-recorded origin.

Ten years after the official admission to a so-called “Rose Valland” archive – meaning her notes taken during the Occupation at the Jeu de Paume along with sources from the Art Recuperation Commission and the Baden-Baden recovery office – the Mattéoli commission’s work has cast an intriguing light on the Occupation years.

Restitutions: a complex debate

What is the point of working on Rose Valland now?

Research into inheritances or heirs holds, in our view but a minor interest, no offence intended. More legitimate and ethical is the attention owed to the victims, to the children of Holocaust victims, in line with what Bearte and Serge Klarsfeld are doing. If History’s relative silence arises from a hierarchy between detriment to property and detriment to individuals, it is understandable, though unfair to Rose Valland’s courage, it can be explained…

But to these understandable and legitimate oversights might be added the institutional silence of museums, of curators, who have no desire to re-open the debate on works at times “embarrassing”. There is also, more mean-spirited and distasteful, the lobbying of some amateurs or collectors somewhat inconvenienced by a past featuring Rose Valland. The assertion that the Nazi ran a wholesale looting programme, that men and women sought to thwart it is also part of the history of the French Resistance and may conceivably deserve a mention, say in museums when so called MNR paintings are on display. One among many such French museums, the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers, for instance, counts eight MNR paintings.

Have restitutable works been restituted?

Undeniably in the case of Didier Schulman, the curator of the Musée national d'art moderne – centre Georges Pompidou, in charge of the collections’ management: “It is also imperative that all steps be taken that go beyond the requests for restitution brought up by spoliated individuals or families.” (see his paper on the Centre Pompidou website)

It is evidenced by the endeavours to track down the small Torrès-Garcia painting (R18P). To wit also a list hastily compiled by Rose Valland, the person best informed of the facts. In 1965, she asked Michel Hoog, the assistant at the Musée national d'art moderne, to let her have a list of the 20th century MNR works. On a large sheet of paper, she drew with a lead pencil a table with two columns placing in the right most of the Artistic Recovery Commission paintings and in the left all the works with possible connections to it drawn from the ERR lists. She was not able to find any correspondence…”

Summary of the section from the Mattéoli report dedicated to the works of art by Corinne Bouchoux

Research on the MNRs is specifically focussed on the spoliated works. The Mattéoli Report makes the distinction between the plunder (theft bereft of any legal framework through which the Nazi satisfied their craving for works of art as such or because of their commercial value) from the spoliations which relied on regulatory dispositions. The Mattéoli report summarises the Nazi pillage through the ERR (pp19-24)

There follows (p.31-44) a description of post-war restitutions with the chronology and methodology of the Commission de récupération artistique (Artistic Recovery Commission).

In the end The Commission de Choix (‘Committee of Choice’, 1949-1953) retained 2,000 works 12,500 artifacts would be sold by the Administration des Domaines (Land Office). Next, this part of the report describes the stance of the Federal Republic of Germany as from 1952 with a compensation law, (p.45-52). Source devotees will find (p. 56-63) a range of starting points (919 box files at the ministère des Affaires étrangère, 65,000 entries of which have been analysed under Marie Hamon’s supervision (300 files checked), some reports and findings, a range of inventories, among which restitution requests.

On p. 64, a fairly diplomatic note records behind cautious euphemisms that “… the work conducted over the past year leads to the conclusion that some recall of these matters had slipped and that the results of very important research conducted right up to the 60s and evidenced by the records established both in France and in Germany stopped being communicated after Rose Valland’s demise”.

The reasons of this communication breakdown? One may well ask.

The last part of this report provides an assessment of the provenance. As of 1 March 2000, the commission estimates that 10% of the artifacts kept in museums under MNR status were spoliated, 65% were allegedly purchased on the Paris market and 25% came with an “incomplete” or “unknown” record. The report nevertheless raises questions about possible “transactions” completed under duress (p. 71): “No systematic research has been conducted after the war either by the Americans or the French on the issue of sales realised under duress…”

The bibliography will gratify those who wish to dig deeper while the regular reader may turn to the synoptic list of restitutions carried out since 1951.

It includes lists of works (10 paintings have been returned to foreign countries), 3 to Customs, other to private parties. The table (p. 100) of the number of restituted works proves enlightening and betokens a recently rekindled interest…

One volume of this report addresses the question of sources. For memory, Héctor Feliciano, researching the looting of works of art at the beginning of the 90s, had worked on US archives that included copies of French and British archives the access to which was not authorised in Europe at the time. The documents related to Rose Valland’s activity and the DGER (Direction générale de l'ensignement et de la récherche /General Directorate for Study and Research) (see Beaux-Arts Magazine, n° 140, décembre 1995, p. 88-95).

So, something of a “cultural revolution” may be observed in the more transparent policy evinced in the discourse of Marie Hamon who surveyed the archives and facilitated the loan of copies for the exhibition organised in 1999 in Rose Valland’s native village.

Year Number of works restituted per year
1951 14
1952 4
1953 4
1954 1
Avant 1955 1
1957 1
1961 1
1966 1
1979 1
1994 7
1996 1
1997 1
1998 4
1999 19
Comblement d'un puits (Musée des Beaux-Arts 1669 Dép., Musées Nationaux Récupération 824)

Comblement d'un puits (MBA 1669 Dép., MNR 824), anonymous (Italian School), 15th century, tempera on wood, 48 x 161 (cm), Angers, Musée des Beaux-Arts, © Musées d’Angers, photo Pierre David.

Train dans la campagne

"Bought from Monet by Ernest Hoschedé, circa 1876-1877; sale Hoschedé, Paris, Drouot, 5-6 June 1878, n° 53, auctioned 175 F to Brullé. Raphaël Gérard, Paris (stamped overleaf). 
Bought in France by Adolf Wüster (as Monet’s Petit paysage avec pont à Meudon) [1] (a handwritten note in the Ribbentrop archives mentions « Paysage de Saint-Cloud, Wüster’s personal collection and photograph n° 48, À Saint-Cloud) [2]; acquired in Paris in 1940 by the ministère des Affaires étrangères [3]; Ribbentrop collection (n° 145) [4]; discovered in A. Th. Paulsen & Co storehouse, Hamburg.

Allocated to the musée du Louvre by the Office des Biens et Intérêts Privés in 1950; Jeu de Paume, 1950; Orsay, 1986."  (extract from the MNR notice 218 of the  catalogue des MNR)

Train dans la campagne

Train in the countryside, Claude Monet, 19th century, 0.50 x 0.65 (m), Angers, Musée des Beaux-arts, © Musée des Beaux-arts d'Angers, photo Pierre David.

Is there a Rose Valland archive worth scouring?

The Rose Valland Archive includes two fairly different types of sources which generated a major cataloguing and classification exercise directed by Marie Hamon. There are, crudely broken down, the archives of wartime notes recording the works shiped away and observations of the Germans movements.

And there are besides the documents collected by Rose Valland in the course of her research on spoliations and recovery never fully concluded after the war. In effect these documents belong in part with the Artistic Recovery Commission. This archive was curated by the Direction des musées de France. Some negotiations have taken place in 1990 and between February and March 1992.

These archives have been moved to the Affaires étrangères. According to Marie Hamon, they would appear to be copies of documents from the bureau des « biens et intérêts privés, an outfit from the Direction économique, section Réparations et restitutions of the French High Command in Germany based in Baden Baden. There may also be documents written by the Germans between 1939 and 1945 retrieved by the Allied Forces after 1945. In other words, according to Marie Hamon “only a very small share of these documents would qualify for a Rose Valland Archive […] there is hardly any document dealing with the post 1944 period.”

Much can be gained from reading papers by Marie Hamon, along with The working Group on Cultural Property in Jost Hansen, Doris Lemmermeir (eds.), Country report for the Bremen Conference: Cultural Treasures Moved because of War: A Cultural Legacy of the Second World War Documentation and Research on Losses, Documentation of the international Meeting in Bremen 30 November-2 December 1994.

Not everybody is persuaded by this analysis. In the USA, the talk is still of “Rose Valland archives” somewhat broader than the minimalist view of a Rose Valland archive as argued by Marie Hamon.

The Central registry of information on Looted Cultural  Property introduces a variation in the archive’s  history

Some files from the Artistic Recovery Commission in Baden Baden “referred to as Rose Valland Archives” were loaned to Rose Valland in 1954 to support her research on the works looted during the war. These archives were returned to the ministère des Affaires étrangères in 1991 and 1992… In 1963, in a private letter to her friend Léon Christophe, a former “beaux Arts” officer, Rose Valland wrote “ Do you not find that time has gone very fast Since Baden? Unbelievable! And yet I am still dealing with Stuttgart matters and I restitute – but not to the French…”

We can add that Rose Valland’s office was emptied after her death and a part of her archives was stored at Rueil-Malmaison, awaiting further sorting. According to Lynn H. Nicholas, author of a reference work, “the Resistance heroine never accepted the slightest compromise and, in her later years, she withdrew completely in her world of secret documents which upon her death were dumped, unsorted, chaotic, in a museum storeroom at Malmaison” (p.. 502). By some quirk of history, the Malmaison curator was for a time Joseph Billiet (one of Jaujard’s aids in the Resistance), a Communist sympathiser with many Free mason friends. He published the resistance sheet L’Art Français which denounced “the looters and their accomplices” (see BDIC France2, Esprit public: L'Art Français, a clandestine sheet published during the war; 4P 327 Rés).

A large part of Rose Valland’s archive was handed over to her heirs (famille Garapon, Voiron). The correspondence between Rose and Joyce Heer has not been found to date.

The Matteoli Commmission pays tribute to Rose Valland