The conference aims to bring together the rich yet fragmented research on art looting in twentieth century Europe and to develop a framework for understanding the processes of restitution in a transnational and global perspective.
Over the past decade the subject of looted art and the restitution of cultural property have captured the attention of the media and the public alike through a range of popular recollections that included novels, exhibitions, documentaries and more recently even a blockbuster movie, Monuments Men. In these narratives, the historical complexities that characterized wartime looting or under duress sales and the ensuing efforts to restore cultural artefacts to their pre-war conditions have often been put aside in favour of vivid literary accounts that occasionally present a tale of heroic sacrifice and the fulfilment of justice. Alongside, a diverse and wide-ranging academic literature has developed, providing insights from legal, historical and art historical perspectives. Based on a rich plurality of case studies, a substantial part of the existing literature focuses on the roles and actions of individual actors or groups - in particular the crimes of the Nazi elites - and the legal aspects of restitution. Other contributions approach the subject with an in-depth analysis of the fate of specific collections or art works, either belonging to individuals, families or museums.
The field remains, however, highly compartmentalized along institutional, disciplinary and national boundaries. The geographical and chronological spread of studies also still proves rather uneven. This conference aims to overcome this fragmentation by establishing connections between the public and private responses to art looting across institutional and national borders over the course of the twentieth century. It will bring together speaker from a variety of national contexts in and beyond Europe to investigating the nexus between private individuals, national governments and international organizations in order to question the impact on notions of national, international and regional identity in European nation-states and gain a deeper understanding of the processes of restitution of cultural property as a political and cultural practice in transnational and global perspective.
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The organisers are grateful for the generous support of Newnham College, the Journal of Contemporary History and the G.M. Trevelyan Fund (Faculty of History, Cambridge)