National Gallery says show cancelled because of 2005 report on forced labour during war

The National Gallery of Canada says it decided not to host an exhibition of works from the collection of the royal family of Liechtenstein because of a 2005 report on estates in Austria owned by the family during the Second World War.

The gallery said in a media statement that “expressions of concern” about the report created “a consensus” that the exhibition should not proceed. They did not say what those expressions of concern were.

The report was commissioned by the Liechtenstein government at the request of the World Jewish Congress. the gallery said. It examined Liechtenstein’s activities during the Second World War, the statement said.  

“The report clearly noted the Liechtenstein collections did not contain any stolen war goods and found that no works of art plundered during the war were traced to Liechtenstein collections. However, information in the report relating to the use of forced labour on estates owned by the Liechtenstein royal family during the War raised concerns,” the gallery statement said. 

The statement said further that the 2005 investigation report stated that it did not establish that the Princes of Liechtenstein knew about the existence of forced labour at their estates during the 1940s. The report did conclude that “as they were owners of the estates at that time, they were ultimately responsible for the actions taken by the managers of those estates.”

ARTSFILE reported earlier this week that exhibition of Old Masters had been cancelled. 

At the time gallery spokesperson Josee-Britanie Mallet said, “the North American tour of the exhibition is no longer taking place. It is not unusual for an exhibition program to change. We are not at liberty to share any additional information at this time.”

The collection was touring several galleries in North America including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“After recently learning of published reports regarding the historical record of Liechtenstein, and after careful consideration, the National Gallery of Art has concluded that it cannot participate in the exhibition The Princely Collections, Liechtenstein: Five Centuries of European Painting and Sculpture. The Gallery’s decision was solely for itself, and it does not speak for any other institution,” said Anabeth Guthrie, chief of communications for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

There have been questions raised about the legitimacy of some of the collection’s art works in recent published reports. These reports have indicated some works may have been done by forgers.

The exhibition was to start this summer at the National Gallery in Ottawa and then visit The Seattle Art Museum, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and, lastly, the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The exhibition was to contain about 100 paintings and sculptures either currently or previously owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein. Twenty-five of those paintings had been sold by the prince decades ago after the Second World War. Twelve of those paintings were purchased by the National Gallery. The princely family of Liechtenstein sold dozens of valuable paintings because cash was badly needed. The tour was to be the first reunion of the prince’s paintings.

The gallery has decided to extend the international Indigenous exhibition Abadakone: Continuous Fire, which was to close next month. It will remain open for the summer, replacing the Liechtenstein exhibition in the prestigious special exhibition gallery. Summer is normally a busy time at the gallery because of the many tourists in Ottawa and local people stopping by while on holidays.

The National Gallery also revealed Wednesday it will not stage a biennial of Canadian contemporary art acquisitions this year, as planned. And it appears the biennials are gone for good.

With files from Paul Gessell

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.