A Swiss town that was bequeathed a Constable landscape on the condition that it remain in a specific room in the city museum and part of a collection that could not be split up believes it is bound by those restrictions and cannot return the $1m painting that was once owned by a ex-patriot British Jew living in Vichy France, the Associated Press reports:
More than 40 years after the war, a subsequent owner of “The Valley of the Stour” by British painter John Constable gave it to the city of La Chaux-de Fonds in her will, on condition that the work remain in the local museum, said Remy Gogniat, a city spokesman.
When a relative of the original owner claimed the painting in 2006, the city near Switzerland’s western border with France sought two expert legal opinions in the case. “The first one explains that under Swiss law there is no obligation of restitution,” Gogniat said Thursday. The second one concludes that the city is bound by the will of Madeleine Junod, who bestowed the painting along with a series of others to the city in 1986, he said.
The interpretation is the starkest illustration of an interesting conflict within the museum world: donor intent vs. restitution. In recent years, both issues have been freighted with moral weight (often quite justified) that further complicates sorting out broader principles of ownership in art and the relationship between art, museums and the art market.
Swiss to Keep Painting Taken from Jews During WWII (Associated Press)