Press Conference and Restitution Ceremony

Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Germany
November 21, 2011

Es ist mir eine grosse Ehre, heute Nachmittag in dieserwichtigen Angelegenheit für das Jagdschloss Grunewald und für die Indiana University hier zu können.

As President of Indiana University, I am very pleased to be part of the official restitution ceremony that commemorates the return of The Flagellation of Christ to its rightful home in Berlin at the Jagdschloss Grunewald. 

As everyone here knows, one of the many tragedies associated with World War II was the loss of countless works of art that were regrettably stolen, confiscated, looted, pillaged or destroyed. The scale of looting during the course of the war was unprecedented, and, to a lesser degree, this looting continued in the chaotic aftermath of the war when British and American soldiers stole items that were small enough to be easily concealed and shipped home. Such was apparently the case with this small panel painting.

I would like to commend the efforts of art historians, curators, and government officials around the world who have dedicated themselves to restoring such works of art to their rightful owners. We could look for examples of that dedication to the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, which took place in 1998 and spurred renewed interest in the problem of looted art; resolutions by international bodies like the Council of Europe; and advocacy efforts of organizations like the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel. Today’s ceremony marks yet another effort to right the wrongs of that era. 

In 2004, the IU Art Museum was contacted by the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten about this panel painting. After careful research, curators discovered that this work had apparently been taken from Jagdschloss Grunewald and ultimately purchased in good faith by Indiana University’s legendary 11th President Herman B Wells from a gallery in London in 1967. President Wells later donated the panel to the IU Art Museum where it has been on permanent display for years.

In voluntarily returning the painting, we are very pleased to be restoring this work of art to its rightful place. 

All institutions, worldwide, have a moral responsibility to repatriate property of this kind that can be proved to have once been the property of people or institutions in Germany, irrespective of whether this is legally necessary. 

Such actions, Indiana University believes, are part of our fundamental responsibilities as an educational and research institution that has been guided for decades by the spirit of global cooperation and partnership.

That spirit is exemplified by President Wells, who initiated our longstanding relationship with the city of Berlin and its people. Dr. Wells played an important role in rebuilding war-torn Germany. In particular, he helped establish the Free University of Berlin, which provided a generation of art scholars their academic home. He also transformed Indiana University into an institution with an international reputation for excellence.

This ceremony carries with it the spirit of Dr. Wells and represents Indiana University’s continuing efforts to support and partner with institutions of higher education, research, and culture around the world. 

Thank you very much.