Thursday, November 01, 2007

Museum reaches landmark repatriation accord


Washington, D.C., November 1, 2007 — Announcing a "new page of cooperation," MuseumZeitraum Leipzig and the Wassmann Foundation today signed a watershed accord under which the foundation will return over 100 nineteenth century assemblage works by the early modernist Johann Dieter Wassmann (1841-1898). For the past decade the artist’s Leipzig descendants have argued these works were removed in 1912 from storage in Weimar without their knowledge, consent or agreement.

In exchange for yielding the works to the Saxon museum — including the prized 33-work Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle) 1895-1897 — the foundation will retain the artist’s large trove of photographic works and continue to oversee conservation. The foundation will also provide financial assistance for completion of a new home for the museum opening in July 2008.

At a joint news conference at the foundation’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, Kaufman Director Jeffrey D. Wassmann said the agreement "corrects the misunderstandings and errors committed in the past."

It will "pave the road to new legal and ethical norms for the future," he added. At the same time, Mr. Wassmann said, the accord "opens a new phase of collaboration which does not deprive the many visitors to our foundation of the opportunity to experience Johann’s legacy."

The pact, the first of its kind between an American foundation and a German museum, is being hailed as a model for settling repatriation disputes involving other Western arts institutions.

"Germany has won, the Wassmann Foundation hasn't lost, and what has benefited is culture," MuseumZeitraum’s director, Sophie Vogt, said at the signing ceremony.

Under the terms of the accord, the Wassmann Foundation will return a total of 115 works to Germany, among them Arteriae Pelvis, Abdomimis, et Pectoris, 1883, The Case of the City of London 1894, 16969, 1896, Vorworts! 1897, and the much-loved Nietzsche 306P 1897.

The works were shipped from Weimar to the Port of Baltimore in 1912 by the artist’s son-in-law, Edward Liszt, where they were taken into the care of Johann’s nephews, Friedrich, Dieter and Henry Wassmann. The works remained in storage, first in Washington, D.C. and later in Harrisburg, PA until 1969, when the foundation was established in the will of Gladys Wassmann. Since that time, the estate has been solely governed by the Wassmann Foundation, a role that will now be jointly shared by the two institutions.

Family members in Leipzig had long believed the works were destroyed in World War II, only becoming aware of their continued existence in the early 1990s after the reunification of Germany.

Of the works that will remain in Washington, Mr. Wassmann said, "The photographs of Johann Dieter Wassmann provide the missing link between the meticulous, but still largely prescriptive street imagery of mid-19th century photographer Charles Marville, and the lyrical melancholy of Eugene Atget in the early 20th century. As a predecessor to his fellow countrymen Heinrich Zille and August Sander, Johann discreetly anticipated what vast potential the photographic arts held for the modernist era."

Ms. Vogt commented that, “The restitution of the works represents the healing of a wound. We are grateful to the Wassmann Foundation for safekeeping and conserving these works, but it is now time for them to come home.”

"This is another step forward," she said of the agreement. "But Leipzig must also hold up its own end by seeing that the doors of MuseumZeitraum open wide in July 2008 to Johann’s many passionate admirers on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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