Robert Edsel Finds Some Nazi-Looted Art Hanging in SMU's Meadows Museum

A Friend of Unfair Park alerts us to the news that Robert Edsel -- founder of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which scours the globe for the millions of pieces of art stolen by Hitler and the Nazis -- found two such items on the campus of his alma mater, SMU. Specifically, they were discovered in the Meadows Museum, according to yesterday's breaking-news release. They are: "a pair of famous paintings on display at SMU's Meadows Museum created by Spanish master Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-1682) of Seville's Patron Saints Justa and Rufina, estimated to be worth more than $10 million, are believed to have been stolen from the Rothschild family in Paris in 1941."

We've got calls into Edsel and Meadows director Mark Roglán for further information concerning the discovery. But, till then, there's this from the release:

The Nazi ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg) code evidencing Rothschild ownership is still visible on the stretcher bar of one of the paintings; it appears to have been rubbed off the other. The Monuments Men Foundation, recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal for its work preserving the legacy of these unknown heroes, which it received from the President of the United States at a White House ceremony, is continuing its research to document conclusively whether both paintings were properly restituted to the rightful owners prior to donation to the Meadows Museum.
The Monuments Men Foundation has provided the documentation for both discoveries -- here for Saint Justa; here for Saint Rufina. Ironically, on its Web site, the Meadows features a section called "Collections Provenance," in which it details the process by which it checks its acquisitions' origins. And the museum addresses the very issue raised by the new discovery: "Knowledge of an object's provenance is important for fully understanding the artwork's history -- this is especially critical when dealing with works that may have changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era." Sprechen sie d'oh!

Update at 12:46 p.m.: Patti LaSalle, exec director in SMU's Office of Public Affairs, just sent Unfair Park a statement from Mark Roglán concerning Edsel's announcement. It follows after the jump. Spoiler alert: The director says everyone's always known these were pieces confiscated by the Nazis.

Statement of the Meadows Museum
By Mark Roglan, director
Adjunct professor, Meadows School of the Arts
Southern Methodist University

October 22, 2009

As part of its commitment to share information about its collections, the Meadows Museum is posting on its website the provenance, or ownership history, of the 143 paintings in its collection. Information appearing online includes the provenance of the two Murillo paintings under discussion. The information at notes their ownership by the Rothschild Family Collection in Paris and their confiscation by the Nazis. The paintings were purchased for the Meadows Museum from a gallery in New York City in 1972. Since that time the paintings have been widely published, exhibited at museums throughout the world, and studied by numerous scholars.

In keeping with its teaching and research mission, the Meadows Museum also gave Robert Edsel access to the paintings he mentions so that he could examine them. The posted information includes a reference to the research of Robert Edsel and a note of appreciation. However, neither Mr. Edsel nor his associates has ever presented SMU with any evidence that would question whether the paintings were properly restituted. In researching and compiling provenance for works in the collection, the Meadows Museum has followed guidelines issued by the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors. Also in progress is a catalog of all Meadows Museum holdings.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky