Nazi-Looted Courbet Painting Returns to Its Original Owners

Nazi-Looted Courbet Painting, Currently in the Fitzwilliam Cambridge Museum, Returns to Its Original Owners.

Mar 31, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Nazi-Looted Courbet
the Fitzwilliam Cambridge Museum


Nazi-Looted Courbet is currently at the Fitzwilliam Cambridge Museum. Overall, Nazis looted in 1941 from Paris. At that time, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce stole it from Robert Léo Michel Lévy Bing’s  apartment. Eric Milner-White then acquired it in 1951, and donated it to the previously named museum. Since then, the painting has been part of the Fitzwilliam’s collection.


Nazi-Looted Courbet’s Origins Wasn’t Investigated

Nazi-Looted Courbet
the Fitzwilliam Cambridge Museum


A branch of the Nazi party, the ERR, was responsible for the looting and destruction of Jewish cultural property. This action was carried out both in Germany and in other occupied territories. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum described the ERR’s mandate as “the cultural counterpart of the physical destruction of the Jewish people”. The paintings name is Beneath the Trees at Port-Bertaud: Children Dancing.


Research shows the painting eventually ended up in the hands of Hermann Göring. If we follow the chronology, the Swiss art dealer Kurt Meissner owned this artwork after the war. Then, he sold it to the art dealers Arthur Tooth & Sons, which in turn sold the work to Milner-White. Although the museum was unaware of the history of this piece, it did not investigate its origins.

the Trees at Port-Bertaud: Children Dancing
the Trees at Port-Bertaud: Children Dancing


At the time when collectors donated the artwork to the museum, there was little reason to question its provenance. It was just the time. But today things are different – that’s why it was determined that the painting was stolen by the people and must be returned to the original owners.


The Museum Agreed to Return the Painting

gustav courbet le desespere romantic painting
Le Désespéré by Gustave Courbet, 1843, via Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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The Spoliation Panel report had something to say on the previous matter. ” The museum has some 500,000 objects in its collection, including around 2,000 paintings. At the time of the gift there couldn’t arouse suspicion. Not only was The Very Reverend Eric Milner-White an Anglican Priest, but he was a generous donor of some 50 paintings to public collections in the United Kingdom and has both the [military decoration] DSO (unusually for a clergyman) and a CBE award”.


The museum agreed with the adopted measures and said that it would return the work to the Mondex Corporation. The Mondex is an organization that facilitates the repatriation of Nazi-looted art. The organization is working on Robert Bing’s heirs behalf. We hope that the museum will fulfill its promise.


gustave courbet la grotte de la lue painting
La Grotte de la Loue, Gustave Courbet, 1864, via National Gallery of Art


The museum added that the Spoliation Panel’s “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”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.