V. V. Soloshenko Auction Trade in Art Objects with a Burdensome Past in 1945–2020: Unexplored Aspects

DOI: 10.20535/2307-5244.50.2020.210154

The State Institution «Institute of World History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine»

The article presents the research of trade in art objects with a burdensome past which increased during 1945-2020. The author hypothesizes that international art markets played a crucial role in rediscovering individual works of art and famous collections which were considered missing for decades. Such strengthening of international markets is contributing to solving the problem of returning the displaced objects of art and restoration of historical justice regarding the citizens who lost valuable art objects during the Nazi period. In this context, the author specifies the importance of key players in the art market; defines the place and the role of auction houses, collectors and art dealers; analyses the activity of the world-famous auction houses «Sothebyʼs», «Christieʼs», «Bonhams», «Drouot», «Dorotheum», «Kunsthaus Lempertz», «Neumeister»; stresses the value of cooperation between foreign and national auction houses, galleries, and museums. The historical aspects of the art market development are investigated, with emphasis on the growing importance and popularity of Internet auctions.

The author identifies major problems and potential obstacles for the further restoration of historical justice within art market development. The emerging problems and expanding opportunities in uncovering the crimes of Nazi cultural policy are shown on the example of the expanding access to the secret archives of the auction house «Neumeister» which is the successor of the auction house «Adolf Weinmueller». The analysis and coverage of these archives led to the breakthrough in solving crimes of the National Socialists and allowed to identify the key components of the Nazi policy regarding art objects exemption, which has become an important step in overcoming the consequences of totalitarianism in Germany. However, despite enormous efforts of the states of Europe and the USA, a large number of art objects has not yet been found.

The article also analyzes the problem of withholding information concerning the existence of collections or individual art objects that were presumed to have been lost but miraculously escaped destruction during World War II. The rare cases of returning displaced artworks to Ukraine were identified, on the examples of a painting by the famous Dutch master Cornelis Pulenburg, «Arcadian Landscape» and a canvas by the Ukrainian artist Serhii Vasylkivsky, «Etude with a House».

The author argues that auction houses, which are considered to be mediators between private collectors and museums, have the potential to contribute to the process of returning the art objects with burdensome past to its owners or their heirs. The research proves that the development of international art markets implies not only strengthening their economic roles but are also becoming important actors in the cultural realm. In this regard, the international art market is seen as capable of restoration of historical justice towards alienated precious art objects during the Nazi domination.

Keywords: auction houses, art market, art objects, burdensome past, collections, galleries, museums, alienation, Nazism, finding, returning.


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