T H E     D O C U M E N T A T I O N     P R O J E C T

Project for the
Documentation of
Wartime Cultural Losses


The Jeu de Paume and the Looting of France

  This project is dedicated to the historical reconstruction of the Nazis' seizure of Jewish cultural property in France. For four years, from 1940 to 1944, the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris became a notorious "concentration camp" for confiscated works of art. More than 22,000 objets d'art looted by the Nazis in France passed through its halls and repositories. The Jeu de Paume, which housed the headquarters of the Special Staff for Pictorial Art (Sonderstab Bildende Kunst) of the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), was frequently visited by high ranking Nazi officials. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was not only a frequent guest of the Jeu de Paume, but a patron as well. His interest in this establishment was understandable, as the Reichsmarschall was able to select hundreds of "abandoned" artworks for his own collection. In the course of the occupation, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art not only confiscated cultural property and catalogued it, but organized displays of the loot which appeared much like "normal" museum exhibitions.

Following is an excerpt from a 1944 report by Robert Scholz of the ERR staff.1

Special Staff for Pictorial Art
Report of Work during the Period
from October 1940 to July 1944

  "On the basis of the decree of the Führer of 17 September 1940 relative to the seizure of ownerless works of art formerly possessed by the Jews in the occupied Western Territories, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art commenced at the beginning of October 1940 in Paris with the seizure of the works of art abandoned by the internationally known Jewish Rothschild family, which was famous also for its great art collections. It was not possible for the various members of the Jewish Rothschild family, nor for many other rich French Jews, to take any considerable part of their art holdings to England and America in their sudden flight before the German occupation. The Staff has not only seized great parts of the art treasures abandoned in the Paris city palaces of the Rothschilds, but it also systematically searched the country seats of the individual members of the Rothschild family, such as the famous Loire castles, for art treasures, thereby safeguarding for the Reich important parts of the world-famous Rothschild art collections. The art holdings of the Rothschilds were traced not only to clever hiding places in the individual castles but also to depots and warehouses, as for example in Bordeaux and other coastal cities, where the art treasures had already been packed for transport to America. In this same manner, the artworks of other French Jews, famous for their art collections, such as Kann, David-Weill, Levy de Benzion and Seligmann, were traced by the Staff and seized in their entirety.

  "After the seizure of the most famous Jewish art collections in Paris, all abandoned dwellings of wealthy Parisian Jews, as well as the warehouses of all shipping firms and many other art depots of emigrated Jews, which were very often camouflaged by French gentiles, were systematically searched by the Special Staff for Pictorial Art, and considerable art treasures were found in this manner. These seizures were carried out on the basis of preliminary exhaustive investigations into the address lists of the French police authorities, Jewish handbooks, warehouse inventories and order books of French shipping firms, as well as French art and collection catalogs. The clearly established Jewish origin of the individual owners was proved in each case in cooperation with the French police authorities and the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), as well as through reference to the political source material of the Staff itself.

  "According to the same system, the seizure of ownerless Jewish works of art was gradually extended over the whole French territory. The investigations of the Special Staff for Pictorial Art were often made extraordinarily difficult through proven sabotage by French authorities, as well as through the camouflaging of Jewish possessions under the trusteeship of French gentiles covering for the Jews. In spite of this, Jewish artworks in the occupied French territories were seized to such an extant as to justify the assumption that, in spite of all opposition and camouflaging, the most important part of the art possessions which had been in the hands of Jews in France, insofar as these had not already been removed before the occupation, was safeguarded by the Staff. The wholesale removal of irreplaceable European art was thereby prevented, and the highest artistic productions of all European nations secured for Europe.

  "In the course of this art seizure by the Staff in the occupied Western Territories, the following were seized from 203 locations (collections): 21,903 art objects of all types, as counted and inventoried up to the present.

  "A seizure record was made for each location, recording the origin of the objects with exact individual data. All seized art treasures were first taken to a collection warehouse at the former Jeu de Paume Museum and then to rooms of the Louvre which had been placed at their disposal. They were scientifically inventoried and photographed by scientific art workers of the Special Staff for Pictorial Art and carefully packed there by experts for transport to the Reich. These jobs were especially difficult, since the majority of the collections and individual art objects were taken over without any inventories or indications of origin, and the scientific cataloguing had to be carried out by the scientific art workers of the Staff.

  "Since the beginning of 1943, art seizures of the Staff have been extended to include also furniture seizures of the East Ministry, whereby a great number of valuable individual artworks could be seized from dwellings and warehouses.

  "During the period from March 1941 to July 1944, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art brought into the Reich:

29 large shipments including
137 freight cars with
4,174 cases of artworks.

  "These shipments were taken to six shelters in the Reich, unpacked and stored with observation of all conservation, air raid and fire protection precautions. At the shelters, the inventories, which had served in Paris only for identification, were supplemented according to scientific opinion, and the results of the scientific cataloguing were recorded in inventory lists and thoroughly indexed. With this scientific inventory of materials unique in their scope and importance and of a value hitherto unknown to art research, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art has conducted a project important for the entire field of art. This inventory of works will form the basis of an all-inclusive scientific catalogue, in which the history, scope and scientific and political significance of this historically unique art seizure will be recorded.

  "A restoration workshop equipped with all technical aids was established by the Special Staff at one of the shelters. The staff at this workshop was given the task of overseeing the care and restoration of seized articles of artistic value, as well as their permanent observation at the shelters. Several hundred works of art that had been neglected by their Jewish owners or had formerly been inexpertly restored were restored in this workshop and their preservation assured.

  "In addition, all seized articles of artistic value were photographed by the photography workshop of the Special Staff and included in a film library. Thereby not only the identity of each individual artwork was recorded, but also an archive of permanent value for study and publication in the field of art was created.

21,903 artworks:
5,281 paintings, pastels, watercolors, and drawings
684 miniatures, glass and enamel paintings, books and manuscripts
583 sculptures, terra-cottas, medallions, and plaques
2,477 articles of furniture of value for art history
583 textiles (Gobelins, rugs, embroideries, Coptic materials)
5,825 hand-made artworks (porcelains, bronzes, faiences, majolica, ceramics, jewelry,
  coins, art objects made with precious stones)
1,286 East Asian artworks (bronzes, sculptures, porcelains, paintings, folding screens, weapons)
259 antiquities (sculptures, bronzes, vases, jewelry, bowls, cut stones, terra- cottas)

  "These figures will increase, since seizures in the West are not yet complete, and it has not been possible to make a scientific inventory of a portion of the seized objects due to a lack of experts.

  "The extraordinary artistic and material value of the seized artworks cannot be expressed in numbers. The paintings, period furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Gobelins, the antiques and the Renaissance jewelry of the Rothschilds are objects of such a unique character that their evaluation is impossible, since no comparable valuables have so far appeared on the art market.

  "A short report, moreover, can only hint at the artistic worth of the collections. Among the seized paintings, pastels, and drawings, there are several hundred works of the first quality, masterpieces of European art, which could take first place in any museum. Included are absolutely authenticated signed works of Rembrandt van Rijn, Rubens, Frans Hals, Vermeer van Delft, Velasquez, Murillo, Goya, Sebastiano del Piombo, Palma Vecchio, etc.

  "Of primary importance among the seized paintings are the works of the famous French painters of the 18th century, including masterpieces of Boucher, Watteau, Rigaud, Largillière, Rattier, Fragonard, Pater, Danloux, and de Troy.

  "This collection can compare with those of the finest European museums. It includes many works of the foremost French masters, who up to now have been only inadequately represented in the best German museums. Very important also is the representation of masterpieces of the Dutch painters of the 17th and 18th centuries. Here should be mentioned the works of Van Dyck, Salomon and Jacob van Ruisdael, Wouwerman, Terborch, Jan Weenix, Gabriel Metsu, Adrian van Ostade, David Teniers, Pieter de Hooch, Willem van de Velde, etc.

  "Also of foremost importance are the works of English painting of the 18th and early 19th centuries that are represented, with masterpieces of Reynolds, Romney, and Gainsborough. Among the German masters, Cranach and Amberger should be mentioned.

  "The collection of French furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries is to be evaluated perhaps even more highly. This contains hundreds of the best preserved and, for the most part, signed works of the best known cabinetmakers from the period of Louis XIV through Louis XVI. Since German cabinetmakers played an important part in this golden age of French cabinetry, now recognized for the first time in the field of art, this collection is of paramount importance.

  "The collection of Gobelins and Persian tapestries contains many world-famous pieces. The collection of hand-crafted objects and the Rothschild collection of Renaissance jewelry is valuable beyond compare."


The Documentation Project's Site

  The purpose of this project is to bring to public attention documentation of the Nazi confiscations in France and to reconstruct the "collections" of the "museum of looted art" situated in the very heart of Paris.

  Up to this point, only a few photographs of the Jeu de Paume exhibition facility have been published,2 and only one of these is well known3 (see View 2 below). Several additional photographs have now been located in the National Archives. These can be seen in the views presented below. In addition, many of the individual artworks visible in these photographs (Views 3-11) can be identified through correlation with documentation on file in the National Archives, courtesy of the Nazi Staff. By clicking on a particular artwork, a high-resolution image and information relating to that work can be accessed, in cases where these have been found. Three documents relating to the Jeu de Paume have been selected from National Archives holdings and are reproduced here: (1) a list of artworks chosen for Hitler (1941), (2) a list of paintings chosen by Göring (1942), and (3) a list of seized Jewish art collections.

Welcome to the Jeu de Paume in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Jeu de Paume: two views of the room for "degenerate" art (see Views 1 and 2 below)