In 1940, a painting titled Le Père, by Marc Chagall, was looted from David Cender, a Jewish violinmaker and musician from Lodz, Poland. Eighty years later, the painting was rediscovered in Paris by Mondex and was consequently restituted to the rightful heirs, but via an extraordinary process. Before the restitution, the painting was in possession of the collection of the Musée national d’Art moderne (MNAM) in Paris, and was therefore part of the French national collection. Even though the French Ministry of Culture in 2021, already agreed to restitution on the basis of research by Mondex and arguments of legal counsellors working for Mondex, by French law, it was a very complicated and challenging process to request deaccession of the Chagall painting from the national collection. Restitution of the painting was only possible through the passage of a law by the French parliament.
Mondex’s research and legal team worked closely with the French Ministry of Culture to help develop a viable approach for this restitution, which we believe may help facilitate the restitution of other similarly looted artworks in the near future. Since this particular restitution required the direct involvement of the National Assembly and the French Senate, it raised political as well as public awareness about WWII persecution and despoliation. Moreover, both the National Assembly and the French Senate unanimously voted in favour of restitution and various members of the French ministry and parliament seized the occasion to speak about the importance of this event. The overall message of the speakers was that France felt enriched instead of impoverished by returning the artworks to the rightful owners.
The restitution of the Chagall painting, the story behind its despoliation, and the convincing evidence to justify its restitution, helped to emphasize the importance of this new law and to reach an agreement about restitution of this painting, together with another 14 artworks, which were also restituted.
The restitution of the Chagall painting was an extraordinary event. The French Ministry of culture, in collaboration with MNAM, recognized the importance of this outcome on April 1, 2022, with a restitution ceremony held at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme (MAHJ) in Paris. As the ceremony’s honoured guests, David Cender’s family members were finally reunited with Le Père in this historic and moving ceremony.
Naturally, all of us at Mondex are hopeful that this restitution may lead to a more systematic approach to restitution of looted property in France as well as in other countries in Europe and beyond.
Since this particular restitution required the direct involvement of the National Assembly and the French Senate, it raised political as well as public awareness about WWII persecution and despoliation.