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The foundation that oversees the controversial Bührle collection on loan to Zurich’s Kunsthaus has said it plans to seek settlements with the heirs of the previous Jewish owners of five important Impressionist paintings in its collection.

Gustave Courbet’s Portrait of the Sculptor Louis-Joseph (1863), an 1895 painting by Claude Monet of his garden in Giverny, The Old Tower (1884) by Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1891 portrait of Georges-Henri Manuel and Paul Gauguin’s 1884 La route montante (The Ascending Road) will all be removed from display at the Kunsthaus, the Stiftung Sammlung E.G. Bührle announced in a press release.

The foundation said its decision is not based on new research, but rather on new international guidelines for handling art lost due to Nazi persecution that were announced in March this year and have been endorsed by 25 countries, including Switzerland. The new “Best Practices for the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art” aim to build on the 1998 Washington Principles, clarifying ambiguities that have led to disputes.

“The foundation is aiming to find a fair and just solution for these works with the legal heirs of the former owners, in line with the Best Practices,” it said.

For a sixth painting, Edouard Manet’s La sultane (1871), the foundation said it will seek a “symbolic settlement” with the heirs of the Jewish art collector Max Silberberg even though the circumstances of its loss do not, in the view of the foundation, fall under the criteria set out in the new Best Practices.

When the Kunsthaus first opened its new extension to display the Bührle collection in 2021, it sparked an outcry. Emil Bührle, a major patron of the museum, was also a weapons dealer who sold anti-aircraft cannons to Nazi Germany, employed slave labourers, and is known to have bought Nazi-looted art. Critics said the Kunsthaus should never have put his collection on display and accused the foundation of white-washing the provenance of some of the paintings.

The Kunsthaus said in a statement that it welcomes the foundation’s announcement, which is in keeping with its own new strategy on provenance. The foundation, it said, “is acting appropriately and correctly according to the subsidy agreement with the city of Zurich and the conditions of the loan contract.”

The foundation’s announcement comes just two weeks before the publication of an independent evaluation of its provenance research, conducted by Raphael Gross, the president of the German Historical Museum, that was commissioned by the city and canton of Zurich and the trustees of the Kunsthaus.

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