National Museum of Serbia in Danger of Losing 400 Artworks

May 29 2012 - 14:38

Three heirs of the eminent French art dealer and collector Ambroise Vollard have filed suit against Serbia, claiming its National Museum in Belgrade has since 1949 illegally held and displayed 429 works of art, including the masterpieces of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas.

Vollard died in a car accident in 1939. During World War II part of his collection was given to his Yugoslav assistant Erih Slomovic for safekeeping, but Slomovic was arrested and killed in a concentration camp in 1943. After the war, the Yugoslav government seized the artworks and handed them over to the National Museum.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers say the Serbian museum must be aware of the dispute regarding the ownership. Another group of 190 art works once owned by Vollard and left in Paris after Slomovic’s death was also subject of a similar legal dispute, which was ultimately decided in the Vollard heirs’ favor in 1996.

“The history of the Vollard/Slomovic collection and the legal decisions rendered in France have created an international stir for decades and no curator or museum director holding these works could be unaware of it,” stated the plaintiffs’ lawyer Francois Honnorat in the complaint filed last month.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers further noted that they had alerted the Serbian embassy in Paris about the legal action and that the embassy had not responded.

The National Museum representatives strongly deny the possibility of any artworks being illegally in their possession. The head of the museum claims that Erih Slomovic’s collection comprises partly Vollard’s artworks and partly Slomovic’s own collection. The collection reportedly consists of 360 paintings, drawings and prints, as shown in the museum’s latest catalog, published in 1989. The museum further claims that the world’s greatest experts in the field of modern art have monitored and studied the collection, and that the artworks have been on public display as part of both national and international projects since 1949.

Author: Jelena Jankovic

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Source: Reuters, Serbian daily newspaper “Blic”

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