Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, Minister of Culture, welcomes the return, on February 7, 2022, of two works of art belonging to the so-called «National Museums Recuperation» (MNR) to the rights holders of Gabrielle Philippson, widow Bénard Le Pontois, and welcomes the joint action of the services of the Ministry of Culture, the Louvre Museum, and the Commission pour l'indemnisation des victimes de spoliations (CIVS), who have worked there.
These are the following paintings and tapestries:
- an anonymous painting of the Italian school of XVIIe century, Female portrait, 1.27 x 0.86 m., inventoried MNR 32;
- a tapestry of the manufacture of the Goblins of the XVIIIe century, according to Bernard van Orley, Curtain of the months of Lucas: the month of April or the sign of the bull, 3.76 x 3.38 m., inventoried SRO 64.
These works were placed under the responsibility of the Louvre Museum.
Recorded in the inventory of «artistic recovery», these works were part of the property called «National Museums Recovery» (MNR), generically designating the approximately 2,200 works selected in the early 1950s among works found in Germany at the end of the Second World War, brought back to France and not restored. Other works not returned among those recovered by France were sold by the administration of the Domains. The MNR works, many of which were plundered from Jews, were entrusted to the custody of the national museums in the early 1950s and may, in the event of actual plunder, be returned to their rightful owners.
Recent research has shown that these two works were bought by Walter Bornheim on behalf of Hermann Goering from Gabrielle Bénard le Pontois, née Philippson, in Paris in August and September 1941. Subsequently, Gabrielle Bénard the Pontois died in December 1941 and her apartment was emptied in August 1942 by the Nazi organization of looting works of art, theEinsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR, staff of the Reich leader Rosenberg).
This sale to a buyer on behalf of Goering, without evidence of actual payment, followed by looting, was considered to have been made under duress.
Seized by the Ministry of Culture, the Commission pour l'indemnisation des victimes de spoliations (CIVS), placed with the Prime Minister, recommended, following the review of this file during its session of July 9, 2021, the restitution of the two works to the rights holders of Gabrielle Bénard le Pontois, whom she helped identify.
This restitution, carried out by the Ministry of Culture, was made possible by the proactive approach led by the State services and consisting, without waiting for the rights holders to manifest, to identify the owner of the MNR works at the time of their plunder, and then its current beneficiaries. This approach regularly bears fruit: 50 works and MNR objects have been restored thanks to this approach since 2016.
More broadly, 178 MNR works and related objects have been returned since 1950, following the restitution of approximately 45,000 works and works of art by the Commission de récupération artistique between 1944 and 1950.
It should also be recalled that a draft law under consideration provides for the restitution or delivery of fifteen works from national or territorial public collections. Presented by the Minister of Culture at the Cabinet meeting on November 3, 2021, it was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly on January 25 and will soon be discussed in the Senate.
The records of the two restored works are available on the Rose Valland database:
List of MNR works and equivalents restored since 1950.