Works of art are fragile, vulnerable, the favorite object of adulterations, fakes, fantasies and money of all colors. They are transmitted by the mere change of hands and sometimes possession is acquired without contracts or formalities. There is no writing or registration worth. Buying a car or a TV requires more paperwork than a drawing from Murillo. Until we reach our time, fortunately, a culture favorable to transparency and legal security is expanding in the civilized world.
The international impulse in favor of the return of works acquired by illicit means is part of such a civilized culture. The best example is the reversal of looted property – the English term looted art it is insurmountable – by the Nazis. The Nazi plunder was generalized and systematic because, contrary to what is said, some hierarchs of that system –included the very same Goebbels– They had good taste and a good sense of smell –scruple none– to appropriate the best pictures of the German avant-garde. They called it "degenerate art" at the same time that they seized it through, say, low-priced transactions in order to decorate their mansions or place it on the international market through swashbuckling Swiss dealers. From the famous case of Maria Altmann and the call golden lady [[Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, by Gustav Klimt]Today the Neue Gallery in New York treasures thanks to the patronage of Mr. Lauder, the international Jewish community was activated and today the courts process dozens of claims for restitution.
One of them especially affects Spain. In a few months we await the decision of the Superior Court of California on the lawsuit filed by Mr. Cassirer, who, visiting our country a few years ago, identified on the walls of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum the painting by Pissarro that he had heard so much about in his family. Despite the years that have elapsed, the Court has ruled on the applicable law and has come to know the merits of the matter. We will see. The doctrine of the imprescriptibility of the procedural actions based on the commission of crimes and other unlawful acts linked to conflicts of war or genocide is at stake.
More recent is the recognition by Western nations of the colonial expolio. The Government of Macron has sponsored the report Savoy-Sarr favorable to the restitution of art to African countries such as Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia or Cameroon, the result of plundering during the colonial wars of the late nineteenth century and ethnographic missions of the first half of the twentieth. We will see the claims grow –negotiated, if possible– in the next few years and few will doubt the justice they deserve.
We return to Spain. Our country has suffered such terrible plundering as that produced by the French troops in the War of Independence and the leniency of Fernando VII or the diaspora of Spanish art during the first third of the twentieth century with the complicity and sometimes the mediation of authorities, politicians, famous artists and historians of art in the shade. In those years and until the first law of protection of historical heritage dating from 1933, many of the masterpieces that we contemplate in the museums of London or New York left Spain today.
But the most sordid episode, the most miserable, would occur shortly afterwards and its consequences continue to this day. During the Civil warIn the besieged Madrid, the Government of the Republic created the Board of Seizure of the Artistic Treasury, which, despite its name and the legends that have been told, was not an instrument of appropriation of private property, but exactly the opposite. The board inventoried, protected and placed in safe places more than 22,500 works of art. The expolio Spanish It happened later when, after the war, the Francoist authorities continued seizing assets of military and Republican sympathizers and, worse if possible, when some 5,500 works were not returned to their rightful owners or their heirs but assigned to other physical persons or disseminated in museums, ecclesiastical institutions and public bodies.
Rafael Mateu de Ros He is a doctor of Law and an art critic