the amazing history of “MNR” artworks exhibited in our museums

Who are the owners of the 62 MNR works of art displayed in the museums of Franche-Comté and Burgundy? “MNR” stands for “Restoration of National Museums”. These works of art were restored in Germany after World War II, most of them looted from Jewish families and awaiting restoration.

Still very discreet. One has to stoop to look at the small cartels of paintings to discover that some of the artworks in our museums carry one of the dramatic aspects of the Second World War. Nothing distinguishes these cartels from others. On a small rectangle attached to the wall next to the work, you can read the name of the artist, the title of the work, the technique used and the origin. Three letters are written for the 62 works of art in our Burgundy and Franche-Comté museums: MNR for the restoration of the National Museums. The number of MNRs in France is estimated at just over 2,000.

twelve MNR in the Museum of Fine Arts of Besançon, thirteen in the Museum of Baron-Martin de Grey, fourteen in the Museum of Fine Arts of Dijon, five in the Museum of Autun; a total of nine museums in a large region… These institutions have works by Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Hubert Robert, Jan van Kessel and many other artists. Here is a map of these paintings, which are in provincial and Parisian museums, awaiting return to their rightful owners.

A story that can be read behind the canvas and in the frame. Old labels, seals are there to witness the journey of these works. What collections were they in and what galleries were they exhibited in? For all these paintings, their “genealogy” is incomplete, the archives of France, as well as Germany or the United States, have not yet delivered all their valuable information. And then there are the secrets.

It is not known who these art objects belonged to before they were restored to Liberty in Germany. Not all were robbed. Since the mid-1990s, pedigree research has been developed to trace owners’ descendants. This is the story in four episodes of “Ariana’s Infidelity Thread”.

There are still about 2,000 unreturned works of art in France, of which 1,750 are not fully dated. We have seen this in the reports of our series “Le fil d’Ariane des spoliations”, the source search is progressing, but nothing says that all open files will be solved one day.

In his 2018 report, David Zivie lamented “The climate is suffocated with distrust” Around the MNR refund. According to him, “This topic sometimes seems doomed to misunderstanding”.

State, especially national museums “pay” for 40 years of inactivity. Current action is therefore inadequate due to lack of coordination, management and vision. What can be criticized about the current organization is precisely the relative lack of organization and very little ambition.

David Zivie

Report to the Minister of Culture Mrs. Françoise Nyssen. February 2018

Since the publication of this report, David Zivie has been working on a task that remains complex despite better access to archives. Currently, a small team of the Zivie mission associated with researchers from the Ministry of Culture is working on 60 files.

In addition to the provenance investigation for the MNRs, it is also a matter of checking whether the works of art purchased by French museums in the last 70 years were bought and sold under normal circumstances, or whether they were looted works or forced sales. Tremendous work. ” Museums interested in the origin of the works they want to buy are turning to us more and more. This is a diffuse reflex. We feel the topic is spreading” David Ziv notes.

If the search for origins has become more efficient over the years, there is a flip side to this, the inexorable passage of time. In Germany, direct memory links with the last owners of the restored works have faded.

There are families who ask questions for the first time. Today, many grandchildren of victims, abducted people, find that their grandparents have stepped up. Steps to skip. Sometimes they realize that nothing has been done (…). The question is not behind us at all. As long as these people are not found, we must continue.

However, the presentation of these MNRs in the museums of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, other regions of France and Paris can remind us of this dark period of French history. A clearer presentation of MNR in museums would allow us not to forget.

If we want to show what MNRs are to the widest possible audience, we need to develop very relevant labels that attract the attention of visitors. Which is not the case in most museums today.

Corin Hershkovic, lawyer and president of Astres association

In the Louvre, only since 2017, two small rooms under the roof have been dedicated to the presentation of some of the MNR paintings of the Paris museum. An entire panel in the Besancon-era museum is devoted to the painful history of the famous tapestries from the life of Charles V, purchased by Goering. In this beautiful hanging room at the Besançon museum, visitors are presented with two stories: the reign of an emperor in a land where the sun never sets, and the horrifying looting of cultural treasures by a collector. Marshal Goering.

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