The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, Florida has been feeling the effects of a poor economy like many other arts institutions. As a smaller institution, the Brogan has felt these effects quite strongly. The museum recently came into possession of a Nazi-looted artwork – and it was perhaps a blessing in disguise.
The museum was hosting a 50-piece exhibition of Baroque painting, on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The exhibit included Girolamo Romano’s 1538 painting, “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue”. The Romano may have been stolen from a Jewish family during World War II, and the United States attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Pamela Marsh, has ordered the Brogan to hold onto it until a dispute over its ownership is settled. According to USA Today, the work had once been owned by the Gentili family, and it is believed that the Vichy government seized the work when the family fled during the war. Now, Gentili’s grandchildren are taking legal steps to recover the works that were lost during the Nazi-occupation.
The Brogan has meanwhile used this situation as an opportunity to get publicity: “The Brogan Museum at the Center of International Intrigue” The New York Times suggests that hosting nazi-looted art might be a boon to some smaller museums.
The NYT also suggests that the Brogan could apply for a seizure immunity. “The existence of this escape hatch has served to defuse fears among American museum curators that works they have borrowed could be seized, legal experts say.” Rick St. Hilaire analyzes the Brogan’s chances of obtaining such immunity on his blog.
Barbara Goldstein, president of the Holocaust Education Resource Council, told USA today: “It’s a huge issue legally. How does someone trace an artwork like this, and what is its value? This is a great story.”