Tate Britain is to return a painting by Constable, which was looted from a Hungarian collector by the Nazis, during the Second World War. This decision follows advise from the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel, a body appointed by the Secretary of State. It considers both legal and non-legal obligations, such as the moral strength of the claimant’s case, and whether any moral obligation rests on the holding institution.
Beaching a Boat, Brighton, 1824, was given to the collection in 1986 by Mrs PM Rainsford, who acquired it in 1962. The claimants in this case have requested anonymity, although Baron Ferenc Hatvany a prominent banker and industrialist of Jewish origin is thought to be the owner. Hatvany’s heirs submitted a claim to the spoliation panel in 2013.
Hatvany had bought Beaching a Boat, Brighton at a Paris auction in 1908. In 1942, when Budapest was threatened with Allied bombing, he put many of his paintings in bank vaults for protection, although other pictures remained in his two main residences. Two years later, after the German invasion of Hungary, Hatvany went into hiding, where he remained until Soviet troops entered the country in February 1945. At that point, Red Army soldiers looted the bank vaults.
The panel also criticised the Tate for not thoroughly researching the provenance of the painting. “It would not have been difficult to have made enquires of the Hungarian government”. The painting which is included on its official 1998 list of looted art from the 1940s could have been traced. ” the report said. It also suggested the gallery had not furnished the heirs with all the relevant information about the artwork. The Tate said it was “grateful for the care with which the Panel has examined the evidence and is pleased to follow the conclusions of the Report.”It added: “Tate will therefore recommend to its Trustees, when they next meet in May, that the work be returned to the claimants.”