Artworks from Hitler’s collection discovered at Czech museums

22-06-2009

Part of a large art collection that once belonged to the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler is dispersed in several Czech museums – often without their curators being aware of it. That’s what researcher Jiří Kuchař discovered after three years of investigation. Following last week’s TV report on the case, a gallery in south Bohemia even removed three statues from public display, citing security reasons.

During a meeting in March of the EU’s foreign ministers at the chateau of Hluboká, in southern Bohemia, the then Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, proudly showed his colleagues around the estate that once belonged to his family. Among the sights the diplomats may have admired were three statues displayed in the surrounding park. What they probably did not know was that the artefacts, entitled The Oarsman, The Sower, and Aphrodite, were once part of an art collection that belonged to Adolf Hitler. Together with more than 50 other art pieces, the three statues were moved to south Bohemia from the German Reich during the Second World War, and have remained there ever since. Author Jiří Kuchař discovered the statues while working on his book on Hitler’s art collection in Bohemia.

“After the Second World War, there were more than 30 paintings, 10 so-called gifts and some 20 statues in the monastery of Vyšší Brod. These artworks were part of Hitler’s art collection, assembled between 1937 and 1944. I don’t know why they were deposited in Vyšší Brod but I suppose they were going to be included in the planned art museum in Linz, which was to open in 1950.”

The plans for Hitler’s museum in Linz never materialized, and the artworks were ceded to Czechoslovakia as part of war reparations. After more than half a century, Jiří Kuchař managed to identify some of them in several Czech museums, but the fate of other pieces remains unknown.

“After the war, the Americans sent all the artwork to Munich to a central collection point. These statues and paintings were proclaimed Czechoslovak national property, and some of them were moved to České Budějovice. The destiny of many of them is unknown to me.”

On Monday, the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery which owns the three artefacts, removed them from public display and placed them in a depository for security reasons. Vlastimil Tětiva is a curator with the gallery.

“It was because of the TV spot that was aired last week. The statues were in fact outside the premises of our gallery, which means they were not protected. And the TV report also mentioned that their current value is very high, so for security reasons we moved those statues to a depository of the gallery.”

Jiří Kuchař is now trying to identify the rest of the art collection, formerly owned by the Nazi dictator. Meanwhile, the gallery at Hluboká in south Bohemia, has no immediate plans to display the three statues, reportedly very popular with visitors.

22-06-2009