This is the first time in Belgium that a work of art stolen from a Jewish family has been restituted by a museum.
After years of research, and after the launch of a website dedicated to looted art works, the owners of the painting "Flowers" (1913) by the expressionist painter Lovis Corinth have finally been identified. The painting was stolen from the Jewish couple Gustav & Emma Mayer by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Belgium during WWII. The work was recovered by Leo Van Puyvelde after the liberation of Brussels and transferred to the Department for Economic Recovery, which entrusted it to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) in 1951. Seventy-one years later, the painting by Corinth has officially been returned to the descendants of the Mayer couple by the RMFAB, in the presence of Thomas Dermine, the State Secretary in charge of Scientific Policy, on Thursday 10 February 2022. Dermine said: “This return of a painting that was stolen from a Jewish family during the war is a very strong signal. A signal that, even decades later, justice can prevail.” Michel Draguet, general director of the museum, added: “This is an important symbolic moment, charged with emotion. Of course, it is moving to see an art work leaving the museum's collections, but we are also extremely happy and touched to see this painting finally in the hands of its rightful owners.”
At the same time, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts opened two new exhibition rooms. One of them contextualises the subject of cultural goods looted during the Second World War, a wider and more complex matter than the case of the Corinth painting. The other room sheds scientific light on the topics of colonialism and diversity. At the heart of this room is a masterpiece by Rubens and a copy by Constantin Meunier whose titles have just been modified. The question of changing art work titles is central here. The Royal Museums want to be a think tank for the museum of tomorrow, by emphasizing its contribution of scientific research, one of the museum's primordial missions, to the contemporary debate.
Launched in the autumn of 2021, the Museum in Questions campaign will therefore continue to focus on current societal topics. The public is invited to take part in this debate and to share their views on social networks: @FineArtsBelgium #MuseumInQuestions.
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