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In search of artworks stolen from Belgium by the Nazis

Art for the Reich

Geert Sels

During the Second World War an immense art heist took place. The Nazis took artworks from all of their occupied territories to Germany to set up impressive collections. When it comes to Belgium, that story is only just being told. How could paintings by Memling, Van der Weyden, Brueghel, Jordaens, and Cranach simply leave the country? The Nazis stripped homes, stole artworks, forced owners to sell their paintings, and spent millions of Reichsmarks on the art market.

A first synthesis on this issue for a broad public

After eight years of research, Geert Sels has put together the pieces of the puzzle that he found in archives in Paris, The Hague, Koblenz and the major Belgian cities. Through persistent detective work he has discovered the routes by which the art was taken away. He concludes that collectors, dealers and auction houses showed little restraint in going along with art acquisition by the Nazis.

Truly an example of art-historical research of the highest order.
Kunsttijdschrift Vlaanderen

After the war, paintings from Belgium made their way to the Louvre, Tate Britain, the Getty Museum and the Yale Art Gallery. The Netherlands, France, Germany and even Russia turn out still to have artworks that should have been returned to Belgium. This makes a Belgian story into an international story. Other works did come back and now hang in Belgian museums, but without their rightful owners having been traced.

Why were they never contacted? In contrast to other countries, Belgium remained embarrassingly passive with regard to Nazi art theft. ‘Art for the Reich’ tells the uncomfortable truth and amounts to a stress test for government policy. Forgotten records are laid bare and the dark side of paintings in our museums is illuminated.