Portrait Of A Lady
The National Art Museum of Belarus has received a new addition to its collection of Radziwill family portraits and belongings, BelTA has learned. Maciej Radziwill donated a Radziwill family tree to the museum as he unveiled the exhibition “The Radziwills: The Fate of the Country and the Family” at the National Art Museum of Belarus on 26 February. The exhibition showcases 99 items from Maciej Radziwill's personal collection and portraits from the holdings of the National Art Museum of Belarus which were kept in Nesvizh Castle until 1939.
Good for Prince Radziwill! He is showing a commendable civic pride. But I wonder what happened in 1939 that led to a change of curators for his family’s collection? The article is silent on that point. Was there a burglary? A fire sale of assets? Maybe that fellow Stalin joined forces with Adolph Hitler and invaded Poland, carting off the contents of the Radziwill family home to populate the Minsk people’s palace of culture.
Prince Radziwill appears not to have pressed his claim for the return of his family’s treasures however-- and this may be a wise decision as their ancestral home now lies within the territory of Belarus -- one of the nastier places east of the Elbe.
Other art treasures confiscated during that era have been returned to their rightful owners, though. PBS Newshour summarized this trend in a piece entitled “Why finding Nazi-looted art is ‘a question of justice’.”
During World War II, Hitler’s army systematically looted great art collections of Europe from national museums and private families. This government-sponsored theft is considered the biggest robbery in history.
After the war, the U.S. and its allies tasked a special unit of 350 army personnel from 14 nations to find and return looted art to its rightful owners. These so-called “Monuments Men,” who were popularized in a 2014 Hollywood movie, recovered millions of items and returned treasures like a 15th-century Ghent altarpiece to Belgium and “Lady with an Ermine,” a Leonardo Da Vinci painting, to Poland.
But the Monuments Men returned art to countries, not individuals, which sometimes put the heirs of Holocaust victims at odds with their home governments.