Pillage is one of the traditional perks of warfare. But it took Adolf Hitler to systematize the decimation and despoiling of cultures, and it took Hector Feliciano seven years to track five famous art collections stolen by the Nazis. He uncovered not only Nazi schemes but also a well-oiled machine of collaborators, informants, moving companies, and neighbors, all with their fingers in the pie. The Lost Museum
reads like a good detective story. Inspired by a fascination with the theft of five prominent Parisian Jewish families' art collections, it focuses on the beneficiaries of the thefts and justice for its victims. Filled with family photos of the art, some never before seen by the public, The Lost Museum
tracks the pieces as they passed through the hands of German officials, unscrupulous art dealers, and unsuspecting auction houses. That the network was so deviously intricate illustrates the enormous challenge of restitution.
The relationship between Nazi higher-ups, keen to advance their own collections, and non-Jewish dealers bodes well for the Parisian art scene. A Picasso for a Titian; two classics for eleven late-19th-/early-20th-century moderns? Such wheeling and dealing reduces art to tug-of-war commodities, and Feliciano's The Lost Museum at times seems to question nothing less than what art serves, and who profits from it. If you like a good detective story and can tolerate the frustration of justice impaired by greed, then this thoroughly documented dark tale is for you.
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Between 1939 and 1944, as the Nazis overran Europe, they were also quietly conducting another type of pillage. The Lost Museum tells the story of the Jewish art collectors and gallery owners in France who were stripped of rare works by artists such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Czanne, and Picasso. Before they were through, the Nazis had taken more than 20,000 paintings, sculptures, and drawings from France. The Lost Museum explores the Nazis systematic confiscation of these artworks, focusing on the private collections of five families: Rothschild, Rosenberg, Bernheim-Jeune, David-Weill, and Schloss. The book is filled with private family photos of this art, some of which has never before been seen by the public, and it traces the fate of these works as they passed through the hands of top German officials, unscrupulous art dealers, and unwitting auction houses such as Christies and Sothebys.