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Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Australia is a signatory to the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.  The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts reported that it was not aware of a legal framework in the country that specifically relates to the restitution of Holocaust-era property, a view shared by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

However, the country’s Department of Communications and the Arts notes that the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act (2013) provides legal protection for cultural objects on loan from overseas lenders for temporary public exhibition in Australia.  Institutions such as museums, galleries, libraries, and archives seeking accreditation under the scheme must demonstrate robust due diligence and provenance policies and practices.  The Australian Federal Police reported that it was not aware of any examples of a law enforcement investigation in Australia resulting in the return of Holocaust-era property, but it was aware of an example of voluntary restitution.  In early 2014, the National Gallery of Victoria agreed to return a painting, “Head of a Man,” believed to have been sold under duress.  The gallery’s decision to return the painting followed a request made on behalf of two South African women deemed to be the legal heirs of a Jewish industrialist who auctioned the painting at a reduced price in Amsterdam in 1933 after fleeing Berlin.  The portrait had been sold to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1940.

In 2015, the government published a best practice guide to collecting cultural material that also refers to provenance research and due diligence and provides guidance to cultural institutions considering a request for restitution, among other topics.  Australia’s most prominent art galleries, Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia and Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, have their own due diligence and provenance policies that require thorough research regarding the provenance of art works prior to acquisition.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future