The Kunstmuseum Basel refuses to return a painting

In a press release dated January 16, 2024, the Kunstmuseum Basel announced its refusal to return the painting. The Muse inspiring the poetpainted by Henri Rousseau in 1909. This double portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire and Marie Laurencin was sold to the Basel museum by the German Countess Charlotte von Wesdehlen in 1940.

The museum declares that it has carried out in-depth research into the circumstances of the painting’s acquisition since 2021, at the request of the lawyers of a claimant to the estate of Countess von Wesdehlen who are demanding its return in 2022. According to the Kunstmuseum Basel, the conclusions of this research do not, however, support the right to restitution of the work. The painting had been sold at a price – albeit low – by the countess during the war because she needed money to meet her needs in Switzerland. It is therefore not a question of spoliation, a work which would have been stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazi regime.

The painting is one of the cases of sales of “random goods”, defined by the museum as “works of art that their owners took and sold in a safe third country, like Switzerland, due to Nazi persecution”. The selling owners were offered a freely set price, in line with that of the market. The museum indicates that “negotiations to find a “fair and equitable solution” have been recommended and have already started”under the Washington Principles ratified in 1998.

The painting is currently hanging in the exhibition “Matisse, Derain and their friends. The Parisian avant-garde of the years 1904-1908 » from the Neubau (new building). When it returns to its original location in the permanent collection in the Hauptbau (main building), the museum plans to include a label detailing the origins of the work and a QR code that explores the subject in more depth.

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