Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe

  1.  Following the various hearings by the Select Committee on "Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade", the Commission for Looted Art in Europe would like to submit supplementary written evidence on a number of key issues relating to the regulation of the art market.

  2.  One of the key issues addressed by the Committee has been that of the availability of provenance information when works of art come up for sale. The Commission is most concerned that auction catalogues and other sales information continue to contain very little data on provenance, especially for the years 1933-1945. This not only exposes buyers to the danger of inadvertently purchasing a looted work, but also makes the detection and recovery of stolen or looted art works more difficult.

  3.  The Commission believes it is essential in order to prevent the present and future trade in stolen or looted works of art that vendors of cultural property be legally obliged to provide all provenance information that they possess to a central regulator which would keep such information on a national register.

  4.  Persons or agencies concerned to trace and identify stolen cultural property would be able to submit details to the registry of works for which they are searching, and would be notified of any discoveries on the database.

  5.  The regulatory body would also have the power to require the production of information on the history of ownership of a work of art from dealers and auction houses, where evidence is produced showing that the work of art from dealers and auction houses, where evidence is produced showing that the work of art in question may have been stolen. Currently, dealers, auction houses and the Art Loss Register do not provide information about the current owner, whereabouts or history of a looted work of art to a theft victim or his/her representative on the grounds of "confidentiality", leaving the victim no option except to obtain such information through the courts. The provision of such information is a legal obligation. A regulator with power to require this information would ensure justice be available to all.

  6.  It is essential that the art trade operates transparently and accountably. A central regulatory authority would provide the assurance and confidence that transparency and accountability are the watchwords of the art market, just as they are of other financial markets, such as the securities market.

  7.  It is essential that the database be operated neutrally and independently, and as part of the regulatory mechanism. Funding for the database could be found through private sector financing and through a levy on the art market and the insurance companies, in line with precedents in other markets.

  8.  Self-policing of the art trade has not to date fully prevented the trade in stolen or illicitly exported cultural property. The central regulator would establish proper and enforceable codes of due diligence for both buyers and sellers of cultural property. These would include the provision of all ownership and provenance records, as in 3 above, by vendors and their agents to the central database; warranties as to title when selling works; the disclsoure of information, as in 5 above; and the registering of the identity of new owners. Sanctions would be available to the regulatory body should vendors or the art trade fail to comply.

June 2000

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