MFA receives WWII Rothschild treasures

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is acquiring a collection of 186 objects originally owned by Baron and Baroness Alphonse and Clarice de Rothschild of Vienna, members of the famous Rothschild banking family. Many of these works were seized in 1938 following the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany.

The gift includes European decorative arts, furniture, prints, drawings, paintings and personal objects including jewelry and jeweled objects, miniatures and rare books. A selection from the collection will be on view in the exhibition Restoring a Legacy: Rothschild Family Treasures through June 21.

By tracing the provenance, or ownership history, of the works from the historic Rothschild palaces in Vienna, through World War II and finally back to the baroness and her daughter, exhibition curators illustrate how generations of Rothschild women worked to secure the return of their family’s treasures. The collection is a gift of the heirs of Bettina Looram de Rothschild, who was a daughter of the Baron and Baroness. Her daughter, MFA Trustee Bettina Burr, is among the donors who have made the gift to the MFA.

The Rothschild family has been involved in the world of international banking since the 18th century, and each branch—including members in Germany, England, Austria, France and Italy—amassed legendary collections of art. Following the Anschluss in March 1938, Nazi forces seized Rothschild properties and collections in Vienna, specifically targeting the family’s art collections. The only objects that escaped seizure were jewelry, which Baroness de Rothschild had taken with her on a trip to England at the time.

The Nazi regime confiscated nearly 3,500 works of art from the Rothschild collection. Many of the objects were selected for the Führermuseum, the art museum Adolf Hitler planned for the Austrian city of Linz. After World War II, Allied forces uncovered the Nazi-looted artwork in the Austrian salt mines of Alt Aussee, and began the process of its restitution.

It wasn’t until 1999, after Austria passed a national restitution law, that Bettina Looram de Rothschild was able to recover the last 250 works, which Baroness de Rothschild was required to donate to Austria in the late 1940s in exchange for exporting the rest of her collection to America.

“Through my mother’s tenacity and courage, 60 years after the 1938 Anschluss, these works were returned to my family,” Burr said in a press release. “Now, as my mother would have wished, I am delighted that this collection will stay at the MFA for as long as I can envision.”

An Art Deco brooch of platinum, emeralds and diamonds is part of the Rothschild collection. (Photo Courtesy MFA)

An Art Deco brooch of platinum, emeralds and diamonds is part of the Rothschild collection. (Photo Courtesy MFA)

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