November 12, 2016

Art Restitution: Tate Completes Restitution Process of Looted Constable Painting

Constable's 'Beaching a Boat, Brighton' (1824) will be returned to
its heirs on the recommendation of the UK's Spoliation Advisory Panel
London’s Tate Museum has, at long last, restituted John Constable’s painting, Beaching a Boat, Brighton to its rightful owners. The Tate returned the painting to the heirs of Baron Ferenc Hatvany, a Hungarian Jewish painter and art collector, after it emerged that the work had been looted during the second World War.  The painting was once part of  Baron Hatvany’s larger collection, one of the finest, if not the largest (a distinction belonging to the Herzog’s) art collections in Budapest.  By the early 1940s, his collection comprised of some 750-900 works of art.  

Hatvany was forced to store this, and several other artworks, in a Budapest bank vault against the threat of possible Allied bombing, before ultimately being forced to flee the city when the Nazis arrived. The Russian Army then entered Budapest in 1945 and seized the Hatvany collection, leading to long-standing legal disputes over the property rights of many of the pieces of artwork it contained.

The heirs of Baron Hatvany filed a claim with Britain's eight-member Spoliation Advisory Panel — a panel created by the British government to mediate looting claims on art works in public institutions in 2013—after someone recognized the Constable painting as having been looted whilst visiting the Tate's London collection in 2012. 


In May 2014, at the urging of the SAP, the Tate formally authorized the painting's return to three of Hatvany’s heirs — descendants who live in Paris and Switzerland.  Then, alarmingly, the museum reversed course one week later after officials from the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts produced an apparent 1946 export license for the painting.

SAP met again in September 2015 to reexamine the original facts in the case, along with the added Hungarian Museum documentation, and in a lengthy 81-page report again concluded that “No link has been established between Baron Hatvany and the two persons named as applying for the export license.” SAP then once again urged the return of the painting to the Baron’s heirs.

Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer who works for the nonprofit Commission for Art Recovery and represents the three Hatvany heirs, has said that the case illustrated the need for museums to conduct better due diligence when checking the provenance of paintings. “Research,” she stated, must “conform to a higher standard and there is a need for more transparency.”

As is unfortunately often the case when World War II restitutions are eventually made, the Hatvany heirs have decided to put the Constable painting up for sale. The heirs of WWII looted art are often numerous or often, not necessarily wealthy.  Sometimes the only practical solution for dividing the value of inherited artworks is to witness its sale.

Baron Ferenc Hatvany’s Constable painting, Beaching a Boat, Brighton will go on the auction block at Christies in London on December 8th.  It is expected to sell for between GBS £500,000 and GBA £800,000.

By: Summer Clowers










At the urging of the SAP, the Tate formally authorized the painting's return to three heirs — descendants who live in Paris and Switzerland in May 2014.  Then alarmingly the museum reversed course one week later after officials from the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts produced an apparent 1946 export license for the painting.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel met again in September 2015 and reexamined the facts in the case along with the added documentation and in a length 81 page report again concluded that “No link has been established between Baron Hatvany and the two persons named as applying for the export license.”

Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer who works for the nonprofit Commission for Art Recovery, who represents the three Hatvany heirs since 2012 has said the case illustrated the need for museums to conduct better due diligence when checking the provenance of paintings. “Research,” she stated, must “conform to a higher standard and there is a need for more transparency.”

As is often the case, when World War II restitutions are eventually made, the Hatvany heirs have decided to put the Constable painting up for sale.  The painting will go on the auction block at Christies in London on December 8th and is expected to sell for between GBS £500,000 and GBA £800,000.

Because the heirs of the looted art are numerous or not necessarily wealthy, sometimes the only practical solution for dividing the value of inherited artwork is to witness its sale. 





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