Published: March 19, 2002
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has returned a late medieval Persian or Mughal textile canopy from its collection to the Princes Czartoryski Foundation Museum in Krakow, Poland. After extensive research, LACMA confirmed that the piece was seized by the Nazis in 1941 from the collection of the late Princess Maria Ludwika Czartoryska.
LACMA president and director Andrea Rich presented the textile to Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, on behalf of Prince Adam Czartoryski, Princess Maria Ludwika’s grandson, at a ceremony at LACMA on March 6.
The piece entered LACMA’s collection in 1971 through a purchase from a respected Los Angeles textile dealer. It was not until January 2001 that it was brought to the museum’s attention that the piece may have been looted by the Nazis during World War II. Within just over one year, LACMA has effectively completed the process of researching and verifying the claim and repatriating the work.
“We are proud to have the opportunity to return this work to the Princes Czartoryski Foundation in Poland,” said Rich. “I would like to thank the government of Poland, and in particular the Polish Foreign Ministry and the Consul General in Los Angeles, Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, for their generous assistance and cooperation in facilitating the return of this artwork. LACMA is fully committed to returning confiscated works of art where claims are substantiated. We do this not only because it is professionally responsible, but also because it is morally and ethically the right thing to do.”
“I salute LACMA for its efforts to return this valuable piece of art to my home country of Poland, which suffered during World War II, tremendous loss of life as well as near devastation of its culture and national heritage,” said Consul General Kasprzyk. “We are delighted that the canopy will once again be proudly displayed at the Princes Czartoryski Foundation Museum in Krakow.”
The seven-by-nine-foot woven textile features depictions of an ancient prince surrounded by angels, birds, animals and winged men bearing gifts. It was originally used as a canopy to designate the importance of the person seated beneath it.
The canopy was a treasured possession of Princess Maria Ludwika, who placed it on deposit in the Princes Czartoryski Museum in 1931. Seized by the Nazis in 1939, the piece was returned to the princess in 1940 only to be seized again in 1941 and taken to Germany in 1944.
“The restitution of the Czartoryski textile underscores the importance of provenance research by museums and collectors worldwide,” said Rich. “LACMA stands at the forefront of American and European museums researching the history of ownership of works in our collection and developing a clear and concise legal process for responding to claims. The Czartoryski request is the only official claim made to date for a piece in the museum’s collection.” Both the research and the claim process have been made available to a wide public through the museum’s Web site.
Provenance Research At LACMA
LACMA’s work in the area of provenance research began nearly three years ago with a comprehensive study of its European painting collection, particularly works created before 1945 and that changed hands between 1933 and 1953. In 2000 LACMA hired Amy Walsh, a respected scholar in the field, to work full-time on provenance research issues at the museum.
The museum established a process for registering claims through the office of the museum’s general counsel and made that process public on the LACMA Web site. Ongoing provenance research is underway on other areas of LACMA’s permanent collection that were particularly susceptible to Nazi-era looting, such as sculpture and drawings created before 1945.
History Of The Czartoryski Textile
The late medieval Persian or Mughal textile, a light-weight tapestry composed of silk and metallic threads, was deposited by the Prince and Princess Czartoryski at the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland, in September 1931. The piece remained at the museum until the summer of 1939, when it and other treasures from the museum were secretly taken out of the city and hidden from the German army behind a fake wall at Sieniawa Palace outside Krakow.
In mid-September, German soldiers discovered the cache of treasures and looted the jewels, coins and other easily transportable objects, leaving behind many of the most valuable objects including Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with the Ermine,” a portrait by Raphael, and a landscape by Rembrandt van Rijn. The lovely textile was also among the objects left behind and inventoried at Sieniawa in October 1939 before being seized by Nazi officials and transported to their depot at the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow.
Petitions made to the Nazis on behalf of the Princess Czartoryska to exempt her collections from seizure were initially successful. In the summer of 1940 the majority of the collection from her palace at Goluchow was returned to the museum and subsequently sent to her in Warsaw. The textile, which she particularly prized, is specifically mentioned in the accompanying documents.
In December 1941, the Germans discovered the hiding place beneath the gate of Princess Maria Ludwika’s palace in Warsaw, where she had hidden 17 crates containing the most prized objects from her collection. The crates were transported to the National Museum of Warsaw, under the control of the Nazis. They remained there until October 1944, when they were moved to Germany by the German SS.
Objects removed from Poland were stored in various castles in Lower Silesia, Austria and Germany. As Allied troops began advancing, they were moved several times by the Nazis. With each move, however, some objects were left behind, lost or pilfered. At the end of the war, the Allies took objects seized by the Germans to Central Collecting Points, where they were inventoried and returned to their presumed country of origin. Although most of the Czartoryski Collection was ultimately returned, the textile did not appear on any restitution list.
All trace of the textile canopy was lost until 1970 when it was sold at auction in London by the foundation of Hagop Kevorkian, a noted archaeologist, dealer and collector. The auction catalogue included no information on the piece’s provenance. Recent investigation has found no records kept by Kevorkian of where he acquired the textile.
LACMA purchased the piece in 1971 from Los Angeles textile dealer Kay Robertson, whose father, a respected dealer in Munich, had purchased it at the 1970 sale. In 1971 neither the dealer nor LACMA had reason to believe the piece had been looted by the Nazis because in the intervening 29 years between 1941 and 1970, millions of artworks had been legally sold in Europe.
In January 2001 a London-based art dealer and member of the Czartoryski Foundation’s Board of Trustees informally asked his friend and LACMA curator of European paintings and sculpture Patrice Marandel about a textile looted from the Czartoryski Foundation during World War II that the Foundation believed may have been in LACMA’s permanent collection.
The curator forwarded the request to LACMA’s Costume and Textiles department for research. The department found that, indeed, a piece that matched the description existed in the museum’s collection and immediately notified the Czartoryski Foundation.
After reviewing photos and additional documentation of the piece, the consul General of Poland in Los Angeles, on behalf of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Princes Czartoryski Foundation Museum, met with LACMA president and director Andrea Rich to begin a comprehensive process to determine if the tapestry was in fact the same piece.
Beginning with new information on the piece from the claim, Amy Walsh undertook an extensive study of the facts surrounding the textile. After several months of research, LACMA determined the claim to be valid and began the process to return the piece to the Czartoryski Foundation.
The recommendation to repatriate the piece was reviewed by the LACMA Board of Trustees’ Audit and Collections committee and, on February 6, a full Board of Trustees unanimously approved the return of the tapestry to the Princes Czartoryski Foundation Museum in Krakow, Poland.
Only 37 years old as an independent institution, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has assembled a collection of approximately 100,000 works from around the world, spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. Through its far-reaching collections and extensive public programming, the museum is both a resource to and a reflection of the many cultural communities and heritages in Southern California.
The museum is at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard. For information, 323-857-6000.
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