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Rightful Owners: Sarah Foltz Travels to Croatia to Learn More About Nazi-Stolen Art

Sarah Foltz

Art History M.A. second-year student Sarah Foltz. Photo by Brian Hwu.

Art History graduate student aims to verify lineage of ownership and reunite the art with its rightful owners and heirs

Hidden art

"Wintergarden" by Edouard Manet

A painting by French Impressionist Edouard Manet, titled "Wintergarden," discovered in a vault in the salt mines, Merkers area, Thuringia, Germany, circa April, 1945. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Sarah Foltz remembers the first time she became aware of the enormous scale of art looted by the Nazis during World War II. “I was in shock,” says the second-year Meadows art history M.A. student. “The extent of what they did was absolutely mind-blowing.”

Foltz is referring to Adolf Hitler’s systematic seizure of hundreds of thousands of works of art from European museums and private collections. He wanted masterpieces for his own use and for the museum of his dreams, the “Führermuseum,” an unprecedented combination of art museum, library and opera house to be built in his boyhood hometown of Linz, Austria.

“Even before invading certain cities, he already had lists in place of the works he wanted from specific institutions and private collections,” says Foltz.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis confiscated paintings, weavings, Torahs, figurines, sculptures and more. Many pieces, including works by van Gogh, Klimt and Cézanne, were hidden away in mines and caves. After the defeat of Germany, pieces drifted from Nazi vaults to art dealers, private collectors, museums and black-market operators. Relative to the total number of works stolen, few works have been researched and restituted to their rightful owners and heirs.

Foltz wanted to learn more about this fractured area of art history. As an accredited fine art appraiser and former gallery director for Austin Galleries, she has had occasion to work on World War II-era objects with questionable provenance. When she received a notice from art history Associate Professor Pamela Patton about a special provenance training workshop to be held in Zagreb, Croatia, Foltz applied at once.

The Provenance Research Training Program (PRTP), a project of the European Shoah Legacy Institute, covers matters of cultural plunder, public and private archive research, legal concepts, moral and ethical issues and restitution policies, particularly as they relate to Nazi-looted art. According to Marc Masurovsky, organizer and director of the PRTP, the workshop attracts historians, museum curators and archivists, students, lawyers and other professionals. “We’re working to find solutions of how to identify and return art looted during the Holocaust to the rightful owners,” says Masurovsky. “At the same time, we’re working to raise the ethical bar both in the international art market and in cultural institutions.”

Foltz’s application made an impression on Masurovsky and the selection committee. She was offered participation in the workshop, all expenses paid. “Her application demonstrated that she will contribute to this process in a way that will benefit her and all concerned,” says Masurovsky.

Foltz will join people from 16 countries in the upcoming workshop. Participants will come from Southern, Eastern and Western Europe, Israel and North America.

“Dr. Lisa Pon, Dr. Pamela Patton and Dr. Randall Griffin all wrote letters of recommendation for my application,” says Foltz. “Without these letters of support from SMU faculty, I am confident this would have not been possible.”

The workshop will be held March 10-15, 2013 in Zagreb, Croatia.

For more information about Nazi-looted art, provenance and restitution:

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