The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has announced a gift of a hundred and eighty-six objects originally owned by Baron and Baroness Alphonse and Clarice de Rothschild, members of the celebrated Rothschild banking family.
The gift from the heirs of Bettina Looram de Rothschild, a daughter of the baron and baroness, includes European decorative arts, furniture, prints, drawings, paintings, and various personal objects, including jewelry and jeweled objects, miniatures, and rare books, many of which were seized from the couple’s Vienna estate by the Nazis in 1938 following the Anschluss, Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria, with the aim of exhibiting them in the so-called Führermuseum planned for Linz, Austria. (The museum was never built.)
After World War II, Allied forces uncovered the looted artworks in the Austrian salt mines of Alt Aussee and began the process returning them to their rightful owners. In 1947, Baroness de Rothschild visited the mines and, with the help of the Allied forces' "Monuments Men," identified crates containing some thirty-five hundred pieces from her family's collection; the majority of the works were returned to her soon after. However, in exchange for permission to export her collection to the United States (where she was then residing with her family), the baroness was required to donate approximately two hundred and fifty of the finest works to the postwar government of Austria. After she died in 1967, her daughter Bettina continued to pursue the return of the objects. It wasn't until 1999, after Austria passed a national restitution law, that Bettina Rothschild was able to recover the works.
"The recent story of this art is one of incessant movement — taken from my grandfather's house by the Nazis and stored for safekeeping in the salt mines at Alt Aussee. When the war ended, the art was recovered by the Monuments Men, but for every object that was restituted, another was held back by the Austrian government for its museums," said Bettina Burr, daughter of Bettina Looram de Rothschild and vice president of the MFA board of trustees. "Through my mother's tenacity and courage, sixty years after the 1938 Anschluss, these works were returned to my family. Now, as my mother would have wished, I am delighted that this collection will stay at the MFA for as long as I can envision."