Kunsthaus Zürich: Van Gogh and Monet paintings pulled from prestigious art museum as Nazi looting investigated

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Five paintings have been pulled from a controversial collection at a top European art museum - over concerns they may have made their way there after being looted by the Nazis.

The pieces have been removed from the Kunsthaus Zürich, where they were displayed as part of the Emil Bührle Collection. In a statement released this week, the collection’s board said that Jardin de Monet à Giverny by Claude Monet; The Old Tower by Vincent van Gogh; Portrait of Sculptor Louis-Joseph by Gustave Courbet; Georges-Henri Manuel by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and La Route Montante by Paul Gauguin were all being removed while their origins were investigated. A sixth work, La Sultane by Edouard Manet, was also being looked into.

This comes after the US Department of State published new best practice guidelines for dealing with Nazi-looted art in March, the result of an international collaboration to reunite millions of works of art and other pieces of cultural property with their rightful owners. The Emil Bührle Collection board said they believed the five removed paintings may fall under these guidelines.

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The pieces have been removed from a controversial collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich (Photo: ARND WIEGMANN/AFP via Getty Images)The pieces have been removed from a controversial collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich (Photo: ARND WIEGMANN/AFP via Getty Images)
The pieces have been removed from a controversial collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich (Photo: ARND WIEGMANN/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

In its statement, the foundation said it would be seeking a “fair and equitable solution” with the legal successors of the paintings’ former owners. Based on their current information, the foundation added that it did not believe any other works in the collection would be affected - although it pledged to investigate any new claims or concerns that arose in the future.

Swiss-German art dealer Emil Bührle was a controversial figure, namely for his role as an arms manufacturer which supplied weapons to fascist countries during the second World War. The foundation said that Bührle’s comprehensive catalogue of paintings - most of which are currently on loan to the Kunsthaus Zürich - is one of the world's most important collections of Impressionist art, including world-famous works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, and Manet.

This is not the first time that paintings in the industrialist’s collection have been linked to Nazi looting. Art industry magazine Magzoid reports that the Bührle Foundation has previously admitted that 13 painting bought during the war had been stolen from Jewish owners in Nazi-occupied France. After legal proceedings in the late 1940s, Bührle returned all 13 artworks to their rightful owners - and repurchased nine of them.

However, some experts believe many more items in the collection may have acquired from their original owners - Jewish collectors trying to escape the regime - via coercion or blackmail. Historian Erich Keller told the BBC when the collection first opened that as many as 90 of its 170 pieces have uncertain origins.

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