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New book from British author features the history of "The White Willows at Pond" from Taganrog Group of Museums

May 28, 2024: the book entitled Nazi-Era Provenance of Museum Collections: A Research Guide came out on May 23. It was published by UCL Press, one of the leading open access scholarly publishers in the UK, in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It covers the dispossession practice of the Nazis in the years of their dominance, the brief history of recovering of the art looted by the Nazis, and the strategies and tools available to provenance researchers.

One of the remarkable examples of retrieval of the property stolen by the Nazis is recounted on pages 121 to 126. The author, V&A's Senior Provenance Research Curator, Dr Jacques Schuhmacher, describes the case of the painting The White Willows at Pond by Vasily Polenov (1881), which was returned to Taganrog in 2017. In the acknowledgement section, Dr Jacques Schuhmacher thanked Foreign Relations Officer of Taganrog Local Government Alexander Mirgorodsky for sharing important insights and materials on the case of the Polenov painting.

The following are the highlights of the story. Once a part of a private collection, The White Willows at Pond was given to Taganrog Museum of Local Lore and History, more commonly known as the Alferaki Palace, in 1920s. The painting disappeared on August 27, 1943, a few days before Taganrog's liberation from Nazi German occupation.

The White Willows at Pond first surfaced in 1959, when it was put up for sale at a Munich art gallery. In 1975, it was acquired by Georg Schäfer and decorated the interiors at castle Alt Schloss Obbach in Euerbach, Germany. On March 12, 1986, the regional government of Schleswig-Holstein bought the painting in order to make it a property of Kunsthalle zu Kiel (the Kiel Museum of Art).

After an art revision at the Kiel Museum of Art and several examinations of historical documents, made by museum workers and German-Russian Museum Dialogue (DRMD), suspicion on the origin of Polenov's artwork was raised. All doubts were removed after additional information, rare materials and a unique black and white photograph were provided by Taganrog Group of Museums. The analysis proved that the artwork in Kiel is the Polenov painting displaced by German Wehrmacht in 1943. As mentioned above, the artwork was restituted in 2017. Next year, a one-painting room dedicated to The White Willows at Pond opened at Taganrog Group of Museums.

An open access PDF of the book Nazi-Era Provenance of Museum Collections: A Research Guide is available for free download at https://www.uclpress.co.uk/products/238763.