Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Who really owns art?

Well, well – the Wildenstein's are in the news again (Independent, Friday 8 July 2011) for all the wrong reasons, and very aptly considering my previous post about the Edmund de Waal book.

I have now finished reading The Hare with Amber Eyes, having become totally engaged with its unassuming author and his respectful exploration of his family's history. And how much he seemed to have learned about himself during this retrospective journey, both physically and spiritually. He followed a trail right back to Odessa and the 19th century Russian pogroms. And always the Ephrussis seemed to be there at the start of significant developments – the expansion and cultural regeneration of the great cities of Paris, Vienna and Tokyo.

Whilst I had initially cringed at the conspicuous indulgence of the Ephrussi art collections, by the time the Nazis had done their worst in Austria and beyond, I was wanting to hug poor Edmund. He kept discovering little caches of letters or crumbling official documents that marked his family's dispersal across the world. I was so pleased that, by the close of the book, Edmund had found a new resting place for the 264 netsuke – at home with his wife, children and dog in London.

So where do the Wildensteins come in? Well, apparently Guy, the current head of the institute that has taken on the authentication of art works by Monet and Manet, has been discovered with his illustrious pants down! A police raid at the Paris institute – a raid intended to uncover art works “concealed” by the late Daniel Wildenstein's stepsons, discovered instead a stash of “missing” artefacts belonging to other family collections. Some of these wayward items appear to have been looted by the Nazis in 1941. Who knows, perhaps some of Charles Ephrussi's former treasures are amongst them?

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