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The Nazis viewed modern art as “degenerate” and therefore confiscated whatever pieces of art they found to be “degenerate,” but that didn’t stop them from profiting off those pieces of art.

While the Nazi party refused to display artwork it did not approve of in German museums, they saw nothing wrong with selling the artwork to foreign buyers, which is how many pieces of art confiscated by the Nazis came to be displayed in American museums. That puts those museums in a morally uncomfortable position.

While the Nazis claim they “confiscated” works of art from its citizens, the truth is that they stole the artwork and used the proceeds from selling it to fund a fascist regime that killed millions of people.

In general, American museums recognize that artworks “confiscated” by Nazis are stolen, and that the Nazis had no legal right to sell them. As a result, American museums have returned many pieces of stolen artwork to the heirs of their original owners or creators, but the Philadelphia Museum of Art is still hanging on to “Composition with Blue” by Piet Mondrian, which was “confiscated” by the Nazis and sold to an American during WWII.

Mondrian had given the painting to Sophie Küppers, a German art historian and dealer, shortly after he completed it in 1926. The next year, Küppers moved to the Soviet Union, leaving the painting in Hanover at the Provinzialmuseum. After the Nazis came to power, they “confiscated” the painting, whereupon it was given to Karl Buchholz to sell to a foreign buyer.

Buchholz had a business partner, Curt Valentin, who was based in New York, so Buchholz sent the painting to Valentin to be sold in the United States. Valentin sold it to an art collector named Albert E. Gallatin. Continue reading ›

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