Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture and Communication, returned on Monday, May 9, 2016, a drawing of Edgar Degas stolen in 1940, to the rights holders of Maurice Dreyfus, who was then the owner. This drawing is one of the works commonly referred to as MNR (Musée Nationale Récupération) which, after their recovery by France at the end of the Second World War, have been placed under the legal responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and entrusted to the custody of the national museums, pending the identification of their owner or his rights holders.
“Three dancers in bust”, also said ' Three half-body dancers », charcoal and shading on tracing paper, drawing made by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is a stolen property that was seized by the occupation forces at Maurice Dreyfus on August 28, 1940. In 1947, Maurice Dreyfus told the French authorities that, although two Raeburn pastels had been returned to him, Degas' drawing was missing. The drawing was found in 1951 in a closet of the former German embassy, occupied since the Liberation by the services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not having then been identified as the work sought by Maurice Dreyfus, the drawing is retained by the 6th Commission of Choice for Artistic Recovery, May 29, 1951, under number 252 and attributed to the national museums (Louvre Museum, Cabinet of Drawings) by order of the Ministry of National Education of August 13, 1951, under reference REC 133.
The return of this drawing to the rights holders of Maurice Dreyfus is the first result of a new and complementary process of the requests coming directly from the rights holders. The classical procedure for the restitution of stolen works, initiated only at the request of the rights holders, is not sufficient. Faced with the gradual disappearance of direct witnesses and the small number of requests, the Ministry of Culture and Communication decided, in parallel, to launch a new approach, consisting, without waiting for the rights holders to manifest, to identify the owner of the MNR works at the time of their plunder.
The Ministry of Culture and Communication proposed to Genealogists of France, the national organization representing the genealogist profession, an unprecedented partnership to identify the current heirs of the owners of these stolen works, including Degas' drawing. By an agreement signed on 24 June 2015, Genealogists of France has agreed to grant the Ministry of Culture and Communication the benefit of its unique know-how, in the form of a patronage of competence, in order to carry out the necessary research to find these rights holders.
The restitution represents a very promising prospect for other MNR works, which have not been requested by rights holders but could be made possible through this proactive approach of the Ministry of Culture and Communication and with the help of Genealogists of France. Within the framework of this fruitful partnership, five other files have been entrusted to the Genealogists and should enable future refunds.
Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture and Communication, asks that further research, information and awareness actions be carried out:
- it is necessary to improve the knowledge of the sources and the history of the works between 1933 and 1945;
- museum cartels must be explicit about the origin of MNR works, as must catalogues, guides, websites or other educational material;
- the Ecole du Louvre or the National Heritage Institute must continue their efforts to raise public awareness about the plunder and provenance of collections.
The Minister said her commitment to ensure that the research of rights holders is carried out with force and indicated the commitment of her ministerial department in the fulfilment of this duty of legitimate reparation.