Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2022

Department 1



During the Nazi Regime, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seized an estimated one fifth of all art in Europe and more than 5 million cultural objects before 1945. The Nazis established control over the regime and furthered their racist ambitions through stealing art of any cultural or monetary value to them. They stole “degenerate” art in an attempt to annihilate “racially inferior” races, and “racially pure” art for the glorification of the “Aryan” race. Since the end of WWII, the return of Nazi-looted art to its original owners or their heirs has been an important avenue for remembrance of and belated justice for Holocaust victims and their families. Some have suggested a parallel between lost art and lost lives, where art restitution provides a form of justice. However, the path to justice is not an easy one. Many heirs do not know they have a claim to their family’s stolen art or do not know it still exists, and the claims that go to trial often do not go soundly in favor of the victim or his or her heir. Many museums, galleries, art dealers, and collectors have failed to do proper provenance research, or know the jaded history of their artworks and argue that they received the looted artwork in good faith. In order to highlight the importance of Nazi-looted art restitution and justice for Holocaust victims and their families, this paper focuses on the way art was used by the Nazis as a means of control, the structure of the looting system, and the systems of art restitution. Three artworks seized from Jewish art collectors are used to exemplify “degenerate” and “pure” art, discuss the impact of the legal system on restitution, and emphasize provenance as a means of honoring Holocaust victims. Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Camille Pissarro’s Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, and the pair of paintings, Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach the Elder illustrate why art collectors, museums, and galleries must confront the vicious Nazi history of such beautiful works of art. Though it will never be possible to return all that was stolen from Nazi victims, the art world can provide justice by doing more thorough provenance research and displaying the provenance information for viewers.


Written for ARTH 400: Seminar in Art History

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.