Bavaria resists reforms on nazi-looted art proposed by German culture minister

German museums that decline to engage with a national advisory commission on nazi-looted art may risk losing federal government funding. This is part of a series of changes proposed by culture minister Claudia Roth to enhance the authority of the national panel, as reported by the Art Newspaper. However, these changes have met with resistance, especially in the state of Bavaria. The proposed changes also involve a shift in the process of submitting disputed works to the national advisory commission. Roth intends to modify the process so that a dispute can be submitted by a single party, as opposed to the current requirement of mutual agreement for submission. This has been a significant factor in the commission’s limited output of only 23 recommendations in the past twenty years.

Any alterations necessitate consensus between the German culture ministry and its 16 states, according to the Art Newspaper. Bavarian culture minister, Markus Blume, asserts that any changes to the panel must be accompanied by a new law for the restitution of cultural property lost during the Nazi era. However, Roth counters this argument, expressing concern that drafting, negotiating, and implementing the new law would take too long.

Currently, Germany’s statutes of limitations for Nazi-looted cultural property include a “finder’s keepers” clause, which allows someone who acquired an item in good faith to legally retain it after ten years of possession. The Art Newspaper reports that Roth’s ministry is in talks with the justice and finance ministries to amend Germany’s civil code and abolish this statute.

One of the most prominent ongoing disputes over Nazi-looted art in Germany involves the Bavarian State Painting Collections and Pablo Picasso’s 1903 Portrait of Madame Soler. The painting, claimed by the descendants of Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, was removed from display at the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich last March following Roth’s intervention over contested ownership.

Roth urged the Bavarian state government to clear the way for the Bavarian State Painting Collections to appeal to the Advisory Commission in an interview with the Bavarian publication Süddeutsche Zeitung. She hinted at the need for a new restitution law, stating, “This is really overdue now.”

Before its removal, the portrait had been exhibited at the museum for nearly sixty years.