Swiss museum reviews collection for Nazi-looted art

Kunsthaus Zurich, one of Switzerland's top art museums, launched a new review on Tuesday aimed at clarifying whether any of its artworks might be cultural property looted by the Nazis.

Onlookers at
Onlookers at "Irene Cahen d`Anvers" 1880 - a masterpiece by Auguste Renoir, at the Kunsthaus Zurich. The gallery launched a new review aimed at clarifying whether any of its artworks might be cultural property looted by the Nazis. Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP

Ann Demeester, who took over as the museum’s director in January, wants to tackle the thorny issue of provenance and art confiscated by Nazi Germany.

The museum said it wanted to see a national independent commission set up to investigate cultural property looted as a result of Nazi persecution.

In the meantime, it said it was setting up its own international commission of independent experts this year.

“Our overriding objective must always be to review professionally the origins of the works we hold,” said Philipp Hildebrand, chair of the Zurcher Kunstgesellschaft, the art association which owns the collection and oversees the museum.

“(We must) enable just and fair solutions where there are substantiated indications of cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution.

“We are aware that this will be a lengthy and complex process,” said Hildebrand, a former Swiss central bank chairman.

The museum said it would submit its own collection as well as new acquisitions to the provenance search.

“The provenance of works created prior to 1945 that changed hands between January 1933 and May 1945 will be reviewed,” the museum said, referring to the years of Nazi rule in neighbouring Germany.

Demeester, the Belgian former director of the Frans Hals Museum in the Netherlands, said Kunsthaus Zurich had to be proactive and transparent on
provenance research.

“As a museum, we bear a great social responsibility,” she said, adding: “Just as important as the research itself is what we do with the results.”

The museum faced criticism in 2021 when it opened a new wing to house the collection of arms dealer Emil Buhrle, who made his fortune during World War

The German-born industrialist became a naturalised Swiss citizen in 1937 and died in 1956, having amassed one of Europe’s most prestigious private art collections.

The Buhrle Foundation itself confirmed that 13 paintings he bought had been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners in France.

Following a series of court cases after World War II, Buhrle in the 1940s returned all 13 pieces to their rightful owners and then repurchased nine of them, the foundation said.

The collection was long displayed at a private museum on the outskirts of Zurich, but it was decided it should be moved following the spectacular 2008 heist of four 19th-century masterpieces.

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10 unmissable events in Switzerland in June 2023

From the iconic Art Basel to street food festivals, and jazz music to carousels, here are all the events you shouldn’t miss this June in Switzerland.

10 unmissable events in Switzerland in June 2023

Street Food Festival Locarno

Taste your way around the Street Food Festival Locarno from  Friday, June 2nd, until Sunday, June 4th. The festival will feature 50 food stalls offering freshly prepared delicacies from 30 countries, as well as a number of bars where you’ll be able to enjoy gin and beer tasting to your heart’s content. The best part? Sample portions will be available at every food stall.

Gustemm er Verzasca

While on the topic of food, Ticino will hold the next edition of Güstemm er Verzasca on Saturday, June 3rd, in Gerra Verzasca. The food and wine event, which is organised by the Gruppo Giovani Valle Verzasca and the Fondazione Verzasca, combines leisurely walks through the valley with locally produced foods and beverages.

An adult ticket will set you back 60 francs, while tickets for children aged 7 – 16 years cost 35 francs apiece. Children younger than 7 years of age can attend for free.

Luna Park Lausanne

Every year, Lausanne’s Bellerive area welcomes children and their parents for a few weeks of festival fun as it plays host to the travelling Luna Park, Switzerland’s largest amusement park. Before the park heads to Payerne, it delights visitors in Lausanne with a rollercoaster, various rides, carnival games and a number of food stands.

The event runs until June 11th 2023 and entry is free (rides excluded).

Wine Festival

Between June 2nd and 3rd, the Casa del Vino Weinfestival in Zurich invites wine connoisseurs and casual enthusiasts to taste a colourful bouquet of top wines while getting to know more about the winemakers behind the fancy beverage labels. While there, the pizzaiolo also recommends pairing a Ripasso from Veneto with a wood-fired pizza prepped with ‘tanto amore’.

The event is free and no prior booking is necessary. Buon appetite.

Niesen Stairway Run

This year, the Niesen Stairway Run is celebrating its 20th anniversary and while you can no longer register for the individual run, you can still partake in the relay race on June 9th. The run will see runners climb up 11,674 steps to the Red Bull X-Alps 2023 Turnpoint Niesen in the Bernese Oberland, also known as the Swiss Pyramide.

Note that though the run is a modest 3.4 kilometres long, you will be climbing an impressive 1,669 metres of altitude but fear not, the spectacular view is well worth the (arduous) journey.

Tour de Suisse

If you’re not looking to break a sweat yourself but are in the mood for a sporting event nonetheless, you can join other spectators at 14 host cities across Switzerland for this year’s Tour de Suisse, which takes place from June 11th to 20th. For the first time in the Tour de Suisse Women’s brief history, the race will be held at the highest level – UCI Women’s World Tour.

You can also follow the tour’s route online from the comfort of your sofa.

Art Basel

From June 15th -18th Basel’s leading art fair will be showcasing art of the 20th and 21st centuries across 200 selected galleries from around the globe. Prior to attending the event, which also exhibits in Miami Beach and Hong Kong, you will need to secure a ticket (from 35 francs).

If you’re not in the Basel area this June, you can also join the event online on the same dates.

Zurich Pride Festival

Zurich’s annual Pride Festival will be held once again in the city’s Kasernenareal and the Zeughaushof on June 16th and 17th. The festival sites can be reached from Zurich’s main station on foot in just under ten minutes and entry to the event is free – but there’s another perk.

Festivalgoers attending the event on the second day can use the Regenbogenhaus – packed with mirrors and changing rooms – from 12 pm to 2 pm as their very own styling room. The building will later transform into an oasis of calm between 2 pm and 5 pm for those in need of some downtime after a day’s celebration.

International Trucker & Country Festival

Between June 23rd and June 25h, the resort town of Interlaken is overrun by would-be cowboys and girls as it rings in its annual International Trucker & Country Festival chock-full of music and entertainment for the 28th time. Daily tickets can be purchased on the festival’s website for 35 francs, or if you’re not quite ready to get out of your cowboy boots, a 3-day festival pass will cost you 139 francs.

Montreux Jazz Festival

Switzerland’s iconic jazz festival returns to Montreux from June 30th through to July 15th with acts such as Seal, Sam Smith, and Juliette Armanet. The programme of the festival’s free stages, which will feature more than 400 concerts, DJ sets, and activities, will be revealed on June 1st.

During the festival, a box office, located at the entrance hall of the Music and Convention Center (2M2C), floor B4, will be open every day from 4 pm until the end of the concerts.