Basel museums review the origins of art collections

Many museums in Europe have examined their colonial past and returned works of art to their rightful owners. © Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

Five museums in the Swiss arts center of Basel plan to examine the origins of objects in their collections as part of efforts across Europe to identify the rightful owners of cultural property.

This content was published on September 15, 2022 – 12:34

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On Thursday, the cantonal government of Basel-Stadt announcementExternal link that it set aside 250,000 francs from 2023 to continue tracing the provenance of art and other objects in cantonal museums.

The aim, said cantonal president Beat Jans, “is to gradually clarify the origin of our collections and to communicate research results transparently”. The emphasis is on a dialogue in search of fair solutions, which also take into account the interests of the canton.

A few museums have already begun provenance research, including the Kunstmuseum Basel, which has identified a late medieval depiction of the apocalypse, which was forcibly taken from the Portheim Foundation in Heidelberg, Germany during the Nazi era. The Kunstmuseum and the rights holders have agreed on the return of the work. However, the owners have proposed that the work be on permanent loan to the museum.

The Basel government has also accepted that the Natural History Museum return twelve skulls and a hair sample belonging to Australian Aboriginal communities. The Australian government has requested that Aboriginal ancestral objects remain in their homeland.

The History Museum plans to examine 35 objects, including furniture, ceramics and paintings, recently donated by the Emile Dreyfus Foundation. Many objects were acquired after 1933. The Antiquities Museum has set up a partnership project with other Swiss institutions and museums in Nigeria and Benin to determine the provenance of objects in its collections.

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