The Tate Gallery in Britain pledged on Thursday to return a painting by John Constable to the heirs of a Jewish Hungarian art collector after a government panel concluded that the institution had failed to properly vet the ownership of the 1824 work, “Beaching a Boat, Brighton.”
— The Spoliation Advisory Panel, created by the British government to settle looting claims on art works in public institutions — said in a report that it was “surprising” that the Tate had lent the painting to international museums in the United States as late as 2006 without checking its provenance.
The Tate issued a short statement on Thursday saying that it was grateful for the panel’s review and that it would “recommend to its trustees when they meet in May that the work be returned.”
The work, listed on the University of Oxford’s looted art registry, belonged to a wealthy Budapest art collector, Baron Ferenc Hatvany, a Christian convert of Jewish origins, whose artworks were pillaged while he hid in the Hungarian countryside during the war. When he resurfaced he discovered the paintings had vanished from bank vaults and his two residences; the missing works included the Constable, which documents show he bought in 1908 in a Paris auction.
The painting was given to the Tate in 1986 by a donor identified as Mrs. P. M. Rainsford, who acquired it in 1962 from a gallery after it changed hands several times that year. The Tate’s own website failed to list an owner of the painting for decades after the 1908 auction.
Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer in France who represented three Hatvany heirs for the nonprofit Commission for Art Recovery, said the case illustrated the need for museums to review the provenance of paintings. “Research,” she said, must “conform to a higher standard and there is a need for more transparency.”