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Bute House: 'No evidence' chandelier was looted from Nazi Germany

The National Trust for Scotland has conducted an investigation after the claims were made about First Minister's residence.

Bute House 'Nazi loot' chandelier. STV screengrab.
STV

There is no conclusive evidence that a chandelier in the First Minister's official residence was looted from Nazi Germany, according to the National Trust for Scotland.

The charity, which was given ownership of Bute House in the 1960s, has conducted a preliminary investigation into the chandelier's history after the claims were made.

A report by Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre suggested the chandelier could have been "looted from the British collecting point at Schloss Celle, or it may be an object looted from legitimate German ownership".

The official guide book for Bute House states that it was found "abandoned in one of the streets of Cleves", in northern Germany, by English interior decorator Felix Harbord.

Mr Harbord, who was charged with repatriating works of art from Nazi Germany, is said to have "had it packed in empty munitions boxes, which he addressed to No. 6 Charlotte Square", home of his client Lady Bute.

But the report, written by Irish historian Erin Gibbons, states: "Harbord had established a means of removing, from Germany, an unprovenanced artwork by placing it in an empty munitions box and addressing it to a client in Scotland.

"Further research is required to try to establish the origins of the chandelier in question."

After the claims were publicised this weekend, the Scottish Government asked the Trust to investigate.

On Monday, the charity confirmed that the provenance of the chandelier is thought to be based on a written account from the 1940s.

This appears to be the only source of information on the provenance of the chandelier and no further records were found within the Trust's archives.

Jennifer Melville , the trust's head of collections care, archives and libraries, said: "Unfortunately, back in the 1960s, when Bute House and its fixtures and fittings were acquired by the Treasury, it was not common for the detailed histories of objects to be investigated. They would simply be acquired, catalogued and put on display.

"Nowadays there is a much more rigorous approach and all museums and galleries in the UK are particularly mindful of the issues surrounding items acquired in the 1930s and 1940s.

"With this particular chandelier, all we have to go on is the written account passed on by the Marquess of Bute’s estate. The scenario painted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center is concerning but we still have no conclusive evidence to confirm that the chandelier was indeed looted.

"Nevertheless, as responsible custodians, we will lodge details of the chandelier on the central spoliation database. This contains a list of artifacts held in the UK of uncertain provenance and enables anyone who may have further information to come forward."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government deplores the illegal looting of artwork that took place during World War II and other conflicts and is supportive of global efforts to increase awareness of the problem and establish the rightful provenance of items that may have been stolen.

"We support the aims of the UK-wide National Museum Directors' Council (NMDC), which has set out a statement of principles and actions for member organisations on the spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and WWII.

"Following the claims made in the Simon Wiesenthal Centre report about the Bute House drawing room chandelier, the National Trust has established that it has no further information in its archives about the chandelier's provenance beyond the information already made public. We will now establish whether there are any further sources of information that may offer further insight into the chandelier."

He added: "In line with the recommendations of the NMDC, we will make public any further information that comes to light and we will also take immediate steps to update all relevant published information on the chandelier, including on the First Minister's website, ensuring that the information in the Wiesenthal Centre report is given proper prominence.

"We welcome the decision by the National Trust to place the chandelier on the spoliation database. This database already includes details of artworks held in museums and galleries in Scotland from this period where detailed investigation has yet to establish provenance and is an important tool in establishing the facts around stolen artwork from this period."

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