1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Museum to compensate heirs of Jewish art historian

Sou-Jie van Brunnersum
March 27, 2020

The Swiss museum had previously rejected claims filed by Curt Glaser's descendants, saying they had not been purchasing purchased Nazi-looted art. Now both sides reached a compromise.

Basel Art Museum Facade art
Image: Derek Li Wan Po/Christ & Gantenbein/Red Dot Award

The Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland on Friday reached an agreement with the descendants of Curt Glaser, a Jewish German art historian, confirming it had purchased artworks from Glaser's personal collection at an auction in 1933 for a very low price.

Now the museum will devote an exhibition to Curt Glaser in 2022 and will pay financial compensation to his heirs. In return, the museum keeps the artworks. 

The museum holds more than 100 drawings and prints that once belonged to Glaser, including Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's "Madonna" lithograph, which is potentially worth millions of dollars.

When the Nazis took power in 1933, Glaser was forced into retirement as director of Berlin's Kunstbibliothek – the city's historical art library, and had to auction off much of his personal collection, some of which was bought by the Basel Art Museum.

Glaser managed to emigrate to the US – where he died in 1943.

"He was definitely a victim of National Socialism," a Basel museum spokeswoman said. "We tried to look at this with fresh eyes."

Read more: The long process of restituting Nazi-looted art

Sold at 'cheap price' due to Jewish oppression

In 2008, Glaser's descendants had filed restitution claims, citing the circumstances under which the Basel museum had acquired the artworks.

The museum rejected the claims at the time but then resumed talks with Glaser's descendants when documents revealed that museum officials in 1933 knew they were buying Glaser's works at a "cheap price" as Jews in Nazi Germany faced increasing oppression.

"We're very happy they re-opened the case," said Valerie Sattler, a descent of Glaser. "It was almost 10 years after they had refused to talk about any kind of settlement."

Read more: Germany failing to return Nazi-looted art

A number of Glaser's descendants in Germany, Brazil and the US have successfully petitioned museums and private owners to return artworks, including Cologne's Ludwig Museum and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Arts.21 - Looted Art – The Fate of Stolen Treasures - 15.11.2008