The Trophy Brigades and Art

One tends to forget that a collection is not only formed by the works of art that have been acquired but also to quite an extent by those works that have been lost. With the exhibition Schattengalerie (Phantom Gallery) the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen (Germany) now focuses on this part of its history and thus emphasizes its still existing claims. At a very early stage the museum began to document its collection on high-quality glass-negatives and, therefore, is able to present a selection of 80 of the lost paintings, which have now been reproduced as ‘life-size’ photographs. In particular cases these will be complemented by still existing pendant paintings or works on loan from their current, lawful owners. Today most of the lost paintings are considered to be Beutekunst (looted art). On 9th September 1939, the first artworks were evacuated. In order to protect them later from air-raids the Suermondt-Museum stored, February 1941, great numbers of its works of art in the Albrechtsburg in Meissen near Dresden. The last transport left Aachen on August 13th, 1942. In the aftermath of World War II many of these were seized by the so-called Trophäenbrigaden (trophy brigades) and brought to the Soviet Union; 220 of the 476 paintings stored in Meissen are still missing. Moreover, the exhibition includes reproductions of paintings that were destroyed, stolen or confiscated as “degenerate art” during the Third Reich era. The exhibition includes art, which can be considered ‘Raubkunst’ or looted art by the former German museum director, who ‘bought’art in the occupied countries to loose it later by interference of the trophy brigades. The exhibition will be followed by a symposium in February 2009. European and international experts (jurists, art historians, politicians, detectives) will discuss the European war plunder industry and its aftermath.