• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Swiss politician quizzed over Nazi-looted painting
Billionaire Blocher owns one of Switzerland's most important art collections. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss politician quizzed over Nazi-looted painting

Caroline Bishop · 15 Oct 2015, 11:31

Published: 15 Oct 2015 11:31 GMT+02:00

Billionaire Blocher, the vice-president of Switzerland’s largest party, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), owns the ‘most important collection of Swiss art from the period around 1900’, according to the Oskar Reinhart museum in Winterthur, which is currently exhibiting 80 works from Blocher’s collection including several by Hodler, one of the country’s most significant 19th century symbolist painters.

According to newspaper Die Wochenzeitung, one piece in his collection which is not on display in Winterthur is ‘Lied aus der Ferne’ one of three variations by Hodler depicting the painter’s wife Berthe in a blue dress.

The painting belonged to Polish-born German-Jewish industrialist and art collector Max Meirowsky, who was held in detention by the Nazis in Berlin in 1938.

In November of that year he was forced to sell his art collection at an auction for works ‘from non-Aryan possession’ to finance his flight from Germany to Switzerland, where he died in 1949.

While two of the three variants of Hodler’s painting belong to institutions — one in the Kunsthaus in Zurich and the other in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva — the third, Meirowsky’s. was rumoured to be in the hands of an until-now unknown private collector.

Imke Gielen, a lawyer who represents Meirowsky's estate, told the Die Wochenzeitung that research suggested the painting was last seen on loan to a Hamburg art museum in 2002 before it disappeared, possibly due to the debate over the return of art owned by persecuted Jews.

Gielen said the painting should be considered ‘looted art’ under the 1998 Washington Declaration because its owner was forced to sell it to escape persecution by the Third Reich.

Historian Anja Heuss shares that view, adding that a request for its return could be lodged.

“If the image at the auction in Germany was sold, it is stolen art,” she said.

Contacted by Die Wochenzeitung, Blocher confirmed that he owned “a variant of the Hodler work”, and that this had indeed been displayed in a German museum several years earlier, but that he only learned of the possible origins of the painting many years after he bought it.

"Since that time, there has been work on clarifying the circumstances and the legal situation. You will understate that no comment will be made until this clarification has been made," Blocher informed the weekly in writing. 

Gielen said she wishes to make contact with Blocher to find “a just and fair solution”, a phrase that echoes the 1998 Washington Declaration.

Story continues below…

An agreement signed by 44 countries including Switzerland, the declaration sets out how to deal with Nazi-confiscated art.

In the case of artworks not yet returned to their pre-war owners or heirs, “steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution” , it says.

Though Blocher is not running in this Sunday’s federal elections, the news comes at an awkward time for the SVP, given Blocher is still the most visible face of the party.

The 75-year-old right-winger is known for his boisterous campaigns against immigration, the EU and Islam, making him one of the country’s most talked-about politicians.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Caroline Bishop (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Man falls to his death over dropped ski pole
The site of the accident. Photo: Valais cantonal police

Frenchman dies after he went to pick up a dropped ski pole and fell 200 metres down a mountain.

Young migrant injured after jumping from window
The girl was staying in a centre for asylum seekers in Zweisimmen. Photo: Vasile Cotovanu

A 15-year-old girl due to be deported from Switzerland is in hospital after jumping from a window.

Woman faked airport bomb threat over marital tiff
The bomb threat caused a big security alert at Geneva airport. File photo: Richard Juilliart

Wednesday's bomb threat was invented by a woman who wanted to get revenge on her husband’s mistress.

Bencic joins Federer in opting out of Rio

The Swiss is the latest top 20 tennis star to pull out of Olympics.

Swiss sports court heads to Rio Olympics
CAS has relocated from Lausanne (pictured) to Rio to deal with doping matters. Photo: CAS

The Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has temporarily relocated to Rio so it can make rulings over Olympic doping from the scene.

Police step up security at Geneva airport after tip-off
File photo: eGuide Travel

UPDATE: Police gradually withdraw security measures put in place this morning after an unspecified threat against the building.

Swiss Post gives stamp of approval to Solar Impulse
The new stamp is available from today. Photo: Swiss Post

A new stamp commemorates the incredible journey of two Swiss pilots.

Family of four dies in Swiss motorway crash
The accident happened near Quinto in the canton of Ticino. File photo: Costas Tavernarakis

The accident happened on the A2 in Ticino.

Swiss glacier reveals body of skier missing for 53 years
Morteratsch glacier. Photo: Graubünden police

The 36-year-old German went missing in 1963.

 Federer to miss Rio, rest of season with injury
Federer is recovering from injury. Photo: AFP

Roger Federer will miss the remainder of the season, including next month's Olympic Games in Rio.

File photo: Chase Elliott Clark
Lifestyle
Study: a fifth of Swiss spy on neighbours
Photo: Katwarn.de
National
Switzerland mulls alarm text message service
Photo: The Local
National
Study: grazing cows are worse for the environment
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: Kecko
National
Terror fears trigger Swiss run on guns
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: Commune d'Ayent
National
Spectacular Valais ‘bisse’ to feature on new banknote
Photo: Swiss Post
National
Swiss Post moves to accept debit cards – sometimes
Photo: Chris Marquardt
Lifestyle
Police break up dispute over late-night laundry
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: Grand Tours Project
Features
Why you should get on your bike in Switzerland
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Photo: The Local
Society
Swiss village tells landlords: don’t rent homes to refugees
Photo: Rolf Krahl/Christophe G
International
Survey: world willing to pay more for ‘Swissness’
Photo: The Local
International
Chaos in Como after Swiss send back refugees
Photo: AFP/The Local
Lifestyle
Nine top celebrity hotspots in Switzerland
Photo: Graubunden police
National
World-class Swiss climber Norbert Joos dies on ‘home mountain’
Photo: Kathleen Waters
Society
Italian ‘ignored’ by Swiss schools in language wars
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: Whitepod
Features
The quirkiest places to stay in Switzerland
International
Migrant busted trying to sneak into Switzerland in a suitcase
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read
National
Basel suffers wettest six months for 150 years
Photo: Georges Gobet/AFP
Technology
Why Swiss science could suffer badly from Brexit fallout
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: Robert Valencia
International
Swiss couple in Nicaragua told to give back adopted daughter
Photo: Zurich cantonal police
National
Police hunt prisoner on the run in Zurich murder case
Photo: Christoph G
Politics
Switzerland sets out law on expelling foreign criminals
Photo: Bernacqua
Lifestyle
Drone shocks nudists at Swiss waterpark
Photo: Basel Justice and Security Dept
Lifestyle
New signs lay down law and order for Basel prostitutes
4,611
jobs available