The University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum is set to return a 19th century painting in its collection, after an investigation concluded that it was stolen by the Nazis from its original Jewish owner.
The storied investigation was conducted by the Government’s Spoliation Advisory Panel, which resolves claims from people, or their heirs, who lost possession of cultural property during the Nazi era, which is now held in UK national collections.
The Panel ultimately recommended that ‘La Ronde Enfantine’ by Gustave Courbet be restituted to Mondex Corporation representing and on behalf of the heirs of Robert Bing.
The painting is currently in the possession and legal ownership of the Fitzwilliam Museum, which has confirmed that it will follow the recommendation.
The report details that the painting was seized from the flat of Robert Léo Michel Lévy Bing in 1941 by two members of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (“ERR”), a Nazi party organisation dedicated to appropriating cultural property, as part of the dispossession of Jews in occupied France.
It says the painting had a “somewhat colourful history” after it was seized and its whereabouts were unknown in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
The report goes on to state that ten years later, it resurfaced in the art trade and was eventually sold to the then Dean of York, The Very Reverend Eric Milner-White.
In the same year, he donated the painting to the Fitzwilliam Museum in memory of the donor’s father, where it has since remained in the Museum’s collection.
The Panel’s report states: “This recommendation implies no criticism of the Museum or the original donor, The Very Reverend Eric Milner-White, who have acted honourably and in accordance with the standards prevailing at the time of acquisition and since.
“The Museum has cared for the work so that it can now be restored to the heirs of the original owners.”
The report goes on: “As soon as the Museum was alerted to the spoliation claim in July 2021, curatorial research was instigated to clarify provenance.
“The Museum says that the research conducted by it on provenance at the time of receipt of the gift was consistent with the methods and norm of the time.”