A late medieval Persian canopy that was looted
from a Polish collection by the Nazis and has
spent most of the last three decades in storage at
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is being
returned to Poland.
In a ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the museum,
LACMA President and Director Andrea Rich announced
that the artwork will be sent back to Poland after
a yearlong inquiry that determined it had been
illegally seized during World War II.
"Today, LACMA sends this textile to its
rightful owners, not only because it is our
professional responsibility, but also because it
is morally and ethically the right thing to
do," Rich said. The 7-foot by 9-foot woven
which depicts a prince surrounded by angels, birds
and animals, is the first work in LACMA's
collection to be identified as Nazi loot and the
first to be returned by the museum to a pre-World
War II owner. It will be transferred to the
Princes Czartoryski Foundation Museum, part of the
National Museum in Krakow.
One of 25,000 pieces in LACMA's collection of
textiles and clothing, it is a rare example of a
blend of Indian and Iranian influences. Dated to
the 15th century or early 16th century, it had
been damaged and extensively mended when the
museum bought it for a few thousand dollars in
1971. It has been displayed at LACMA only twice,
soon after it was acquired and again in the early
1980s. Its current value is unknown.
"It's a study piece, but we'll miss it,"
said Linda Komaroff, the museum's curator of
LACMA purchased the canopy in 1971 from Los
Angeles textile dealer Kay Robertson, whose
father, Munich dealer Lowey Robertson, bought it
at an auction in 1970. Neither Robertson nor the
museum suspected that the work was Nazi loot at
the time, LACMA officials say.
But in January 2001, London dealer Andrew S.
Ciechanowiecki, who serves on the board of
trustees of the Czartoryski Foundation, asked his
longtime friend, J. Patrice Marandel, who is
LACMA's chief curator of European painting and
sculpture, if the museum might have the missing
canopy in its collection.
Marandel forwarded the inquiry to the museum's
costume and textiles department. When the curators
found that LACMA had a piece that seemed to match
the description, the Polish consul in Los Angeles
When Poland made a formal claim in October 2001,
the matter was turned over to art historian Amy
Walsh, who heads LACMA's Provenance Research
Project, set up in 1999 to search the museum's
records for artworks that might have been looted
during World War II.
Walsh first searched the museum's archives on the
canopy and then went to the National Archives in
College Park, Md., which maintains records of
artworks that were seized during the Holocaust and
later returned. She also contacted the National
Museum in Krakow to study its records on the
Her research convinced LACMA that its canopy was
indeed the missing artwork. On Feb. 6, the board
of trustees voted to return the piece to Poland.
The return of the canopy is part of an
international museum effort to make restitution to
victims of the Nazis. Art scholars are doing
detective work for organizations ranging from an
Internet registry based in Mageburg, Germany, to
the Art Loss Registry in London and individual
museums all across the United States.
As a result of these efforts, many looted works
have been returned. Berlin's National Museum gave
a Vincent van Gogh drawing worth more than $6
million to the family of a Jewish collector who
was forced to sell it in 1935 for the equivalent
LACMA launched the Provenance Research Project
nearly three years ago, hiring Walsh to examine
its collection in accordance with national
guidelines adopted by the American Assn. of
Museums. She began with paintings, focusing on
works that had been created before 1945 and that
had changed hands between 1933 and the years
shortly after World War II.
Walsh looked for gaps in the provenance, or
history of ownership. It isn't unusual for records
of ownership to be incomplete; artworks that
change hands don't always leave a paper trail. But
gaps that occur between 1933 and 1945 are of
particular concern because they raise the
possibility of Nazi involvement. Walsh found five
paintings that raised questions of ownership
during the period under scrutiny and posted them
on the museum's Web site in November 2000.
The museum has received no claims for any of the
paintings, she said. During the last year and a
half, Walsh has combed through other parts of the
collection and conducted research on artworks
loaned to the museum to protect the institution
from judicial procedures resulting from ownership
But the return of LACMA's canopy is a special
case, sparked by an outsider's inquiry.
Records in Poland trace the canopy's convoluted
history through 1944. It was part of the
collection of the late Princess Maria Ludwika
Czartoryska, who installed it at her family's
museum in Krakow in 1931. She moved most of her
collection to a palace outside Krakow once the
Nazis invaded Poland, but they soon discovered her
hiding place and transported the works to their
depot at the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow.
Most of the works, including the canopy, were
returned to the family museum in the summer of
1940; the princess subsequently hid them in her
palace in Warsaw. In December 1941, the Germans
raided that palace, discovered 17 crates of
artworks and sent them to the National Museum in
Warsaw, then under Nazi control.
They remained there until 1944, when the Nazis
moved them to an unknown location in Germany.
After the war, the Allied forces rounded up
objects that the Nazis had seized and returned
them to their owners. Most of the Czartoryski
collection was returned, but the textile had
It resurfaced in 1970, when it was sold at auction
in London by the foundation of Hagop Kevorkian, a
noted archeologist, dealer and collector. The
auction catalog contains no information on the
piece's provenance, and no record of Kevorkian's
acquisition of the textile have been found.
The Polish consul general in Los Angeles,
Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, accepted the artwork from
LACMA on Wednesday, saying it will be proudly
displayed and that its recovery will help to
assuage losses of his country's cultural heritage.
"I never expected that one day, far from home
in the beautiful landscape of California, I would
be given a chance to make things better [at
home]," he said.