The auction world and the museum world are closely interlinked, so it’s only natural when a partnership emerges: this week, the Louvre and Sotheby’s announced that over the next three years, a joint effort and sponsorship deal geared towards potential restitution would play out between the two institutions. Specifically, the project is centered around work that was acquired by the Louvre between 1933 and 1945, a period which obviously includes the art that was obtained during the Second World War. The Louvre has already been making an ongoing effort to determine whether Nazi-looted paintings exist within their permanent collection, and there’s a lot to weed through.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Louvre reportedly acquired 13,943 works of art ranging between all manner of styles and time periods. An Ancient Egyptian architectural relief picked up by the museum in 1945 dates back to the 1600s, while a 1844 painting of a horse in the Département des Peintures that was added in 1934 was previously held in the collection of Arthur Chassériau.
“This patronage echoes Sotheby’s commitment to the restitution of works that changed hands between 1933 and 1945,” officials from the Louvre said in a statement regarding the new partnership. “It was the first international auction house to have a department dedicated to provenance research and restitution.”
Beginning in 2020, working on behalf of the Louvre, art historian Emmanuelle Polack identified ten pieces in the Louvre’s collection that had previously belonged to Armand Dorville, a lawyer in Paris with a formidable art collection who had been forced to abandon his trove when the Nazis broached the city in 1940. Polack’s work opened the door for other such discoveries, and the Louvre and Sotheby’s aspire to push these revelations forward.
In addition to the research efforts, the Louvre and Sotheby’s project will also include a study day on February 2 dedicated to “the chain of transfer of ownership of works and cultural objects in the light of the German Occupation and the Vichy laws” and “purchases at public auction [by] the Egyptian Department of Antiquities between 1933 and 1945.”