In May 1933, the Kunstmuseum Basel acquired at an auction in Berlin some 200 drawings and prints from the collection of Dr. Curt Glaser. In 2004, an American law firm on behalf of the heirs of Curt Glaser asked the Kunstmuseum Basel for information about two lithographs by Edvard Munch. Three years later, the heirs laid claim to all the works of art acquired at the auction, at best against compensation for the purchase price paid at the time. In 2008, the Basel Government decided against restitution of the works.
At the end of 2017, the heirs again contacted the Basel Government. The Kunstmuseum Basel and the trustees took this contact as an opportunity to jointly re-examine the Curt Glaser case. To this end, a working group was set up at the Kunstmuseum Basel to look into the case in greater depth.
In March 2020, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the heirs of Curt Glaser have agreed on a fair and just solution. The Kunstmuseum Basel retains the works of art, while providing redress to the heirs with an extensive exhibition about Curt Glaser and monetary compensation.
Text of the media release on the settlement of the Curt Glaser case of 27 March 2020:
Curt Glaser, who was of Jewish descent, emigrated to Switzerland in 1933. After the Nazis had seized power, he had lost his position as director of Berlin’s Kunstbibliothek, one of Germany’s leading art-historical libraries. In May 1933, he auctioned off most of his sizable art collection; the Kunstmuseum purchased two hundred drawings and prints. After a long illness, Curt Glaser died in the United States on November 23, 1943.
In late 2017, Curt Glaser’s heirs approached the Kunstmuseum Basel and demanded a “fair and just solution.” They invoked the so-called Washington Principles (Washington Conference on Nazi-Confiscated Art), which call for fair and just solutions in cases in which individuals had lost art during the Nazi era. The Kunstmuseum Basel, together with other Swiss art museums, adopted a resolution to implement the Washington Principles in 1998.
In its November 21, 2017, meeting, the museum’s board of trustees resolved to investigate the matter in depth. Over the course of 2018, the trustees, assisted by a working group of the museum, studied the historical and legal ramifications of the case. They also heard Curt Glaser’s heirs and their representatives. In late 2018, the board of trustees and the management unanimously adopted a decision based on an extensive report (see below).
Curt Glaser was a victim of National Socialism
The board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum recognize that Curt Glaser was a victim of National Socialism and that his case must be adjudicated under the Washington Principles. However, in the opinion of the trustees and the Kunstmuseum, Curt Glaser enjoyed considerable latitude in his decisions on which works of art to sell and which to retain at the time of his emigration. The trustees and the Kunstmuseum also assume that he received the complete proceeds from the sales.
Based on this assessment, the board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum decided not to restitute the works. However, the Washington Principles also allow for another form of fair and just solution. The trustees and the Kunstmuseum regard the preparation of a detailed report on the case as part of a fair and just solution. In 2022, the Kunstmuseum will moreover mount an extensive historical exhibition about Curt Glaser. Its objective will be to shed light on Curt Glaser’s work as a collector, art historian, art critic, and museum director, with those works from his collection that have entered the Kunstmuseum Basel’s holdings as central exhibits. Lastly, the board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum recommended negotiations with the heirs concerning a possible monetary compensation.
The report was shared with the Government of the canton of Basel-Stadt in late 2018. The Government approved the negotiations with the heirs and signaled its willingness to provide funding assistance for the exhibition about Curt Glaser. The board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum are most grateful to the Government for its support.
The negotiations with the heirs of Curt Glaser took place in 2019. The representatives of Curt Glaser’s heirs traveled to Basel. The works formerly owned by Curt Glaser in the Kunstmuseum’s collection were appraised. In early 2020, the parties arrived at a mutually agreeable settlement concerning the monetary compensation, which will be paid from the Kunstmuseum’s acquisitions funds. The parties have agreed not to disclose the settlement figure. The board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum would like to use this opportunity to thank the representatives of the heirs again for the constructive cooperation.
The board of trustees and the Kunstmuseum believe that this decision and settlement reflect the museum’s firm commitment to provenance research and the Washington Principles. Over the past decade, follow-up conferences and the work of scholars have refined those principles. That is why we have now been able to arrive at a different decision than in 2008, when the government of Basel declined to enter negotiations.