Heirs fight on as UK refuses to return art

The heirs of a wartime German art historian, Curt Glaser, have challenged a UK government panel’s decision not to return eight drawings once in his collection.

The drawings, said to be worth around £35,000, now hang in the Courtauld Institute in London.

Lawyers acting for the descendants of Professor Glaser have asked the Spoliation Advisory Panel (SAP) to rethink its decision and may take legal action to try to retrieve the works of art.

David Rowland, a New York lawyer representing the heirs, said the panel’s decision was contradictory.

He argued that while the panel recognised that Prof Glaser was a victim of Nazi persecution who lost his job and his home, it refused to restore the drawings because, in its view, he had received a market price for them. Mr Rowland has written to the SAP asking it to reconsider.

Professor Glaser had been director of the Berlin State Art Library for eight years until Hitler fired all Jewish civil servants.

He also lost the apartment that went with the job, and sold his entire collection of 1,500 works of art.

The panel noted a letter that Professor Glaser wrote to the artist Edvard Munch, who was a close friend. In it, he said that as he had recently remarried, he wanted to start a new life elsewhere. He left Germany in 1933 and died in Lake Placid in New York state 10 years later, aged 64.

“The panel seem to have ignored the fact that he sold his art collection to finance his escape from Nazi Germany,” said Mr Rowland. “I do not see how they can acknowledge that he was persecuted by the Nazis, yet reach a decision that the drawings should not be returned.”

A spokesman at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees the SAP, said the panel did not have regular meetings but met when there were cases to consider.

In this case, the letter from Mr Rowland raised a particular point “and the panel might well meet to deal quickly with it”, said a spokesman, though he added: “The panel looked long and hard at this case before they came to their recommendation.”

    Last updated: 4:00pm, July 17 2009