As part of the renovations of the rooms that house French and Northern European painting on level 2 of the Richelieu wing, the Musée du Louvre has dedicated two rooms to works recovered in Germany after the Second World War. A selection of 31 paintings marked “MNR,” the French initials for musées nationaux récupération (National Museums Recovery), is now on display in two designated rooms along with texts that raise awareness among visitors about this issue. An additional 76 paintings are presented throughout the museum’s permanent collections along with a specific text indicating where they came from.
Between 1940 and 1945, approximately 100,000 objects of all kinds (including many artworks) were looted in France by the Nazis or sold under duress and transferred to Germany. The Commission de Récupération artistique, a French commission for the recovery of artworks, was created in 1944 to retrieve these stolen goods and return them to their rightful owners. Thanks to the commission, active until 1949, more than 61,000 objects found their way back to France. Of those, more than 45,000 were returned to their owners at the demand of the victims themselves or their direct heirs.
Unclaimed works were, for the most part (approximately 13,000), sold, and the administration kept 2,143 objects, which were registered in special inventories labeled “MNR.” The Musée du Louvre houses 1,752 MNR works in its collections, including 807 paintings. Of those, 296 are in the museum itself while the rest were sent to different museums on long-term loans around France.
Currently, a working group set up by the French Ministry of Culture who works with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS), created in 1999, is in charge of tracking the provenance of these works, in order to determine which were spoliated and which were not. If a work was spoliated, the group tries to identify its rightful owner at the time of the confiscation so that it may be returned to the appropriate beneficiaries. When it comes to paintings, more than 50 works have been returned since 1951.
The complete catalogue of these paintings was published in 2004: Catalogue des peintures MNR, by Claude Lesné and Anne Roquebert. The catalogue is also available online, thanks to the Rose-Valland site (http://www.culture.gouv.fr/documentation/mnr).