Viennese Museum Returns Looted Colonial Artifacts to the USA

Lifestyle & TravelCulture ♦ Published: February 14, 2022; 22:58 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Natural History Museum in Vienna is returning looted items from the colonial era to the United States. Read more about the two artifacts and why they are being returned.

The Natural History Museum of Vienna is returning two skulls to the United States. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Gerard de Lairesse, Public domain

In accordance with the Art Restitution Act of 1998, the Natural History Museum of Vienna (NHM) is returning looted items from the colonial era to the United States.

The two skulls, which belonged to a Hawaiian man and woman, were requested by a Hawaiian NGO two years ago.

According to the ORF, the English adventurer William Green stole them from a grave in the 19th century.

“He then sold them. These two skulls were in a collection in Great Britain and then came here to Vienna, so they were donated to the museum at that time,” Director of the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Kathrin Vohland, told the ORF.

The Natural History Museum has said that it wants to acknowledge the ethical and moral injustice caused by reckless collecting practices during the colonial period.

Art Restitution Act of 1998

Despite the time that has elapsed since the end of the Second World War and the restitution legislation since the post-war years (nullity law, restitution laws, art and cultural consolidation laws), there are still works of art in the federal collections that were confiscated from their rightful owners during the Nazi regime.

The Commission for Provenance Research was therefore set up in 1998 to systematically examine the federal collections and uncover confiscated objects.

At the same time, the federal law on the return of works of art from the Austrian federal museums and collections was enacted.

This law makes it possible to return confiscated art and cultural objects that are currently owned by the federal government to the original owners or their legal successors.

The results of the Commission for Provenance Research are summarized in dossiers and submitted to the Art Restitution Advisory Board set up at the Federal Chancellery.

After a thorough examination of the dossiers, the Advisory Board makes a recommendation to the Federal Minister responsible for the respective federal collection.

The recommendations of the Art Restitution Advisory Board are published on the website of the Commission for Provenance Research.

Austrian Art Ministry

Commission for Provenance Research