Limerick museum at centre of looted Nazi art claims
The leading anti-Nazi group, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, has called for an inquiry into the contents of the Hunt Museum in Limerick after linking the former owners of the collection to "notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis". Arthur Beesley, Political Reporter, reports
The claims about the multi-million-euro art and artefact collection amassed by the late John Hunt and his late wife, Gertrude, were made in a letter to the President, Mrs McAleese, last week. The centre's international liaison director, Dr Shimon Samuels, called on the President to suspend the Museum of the Year award she presented to the Hunt Museum in November.
Mrs McAleese replied three days later saying she was precluded from comment under the Constitution. She has now passed the letter to the Taoiseach, who in turn has passed it to the Minister for Arts, Mr O'Donoghue. His spokesman said last night he had not yet received the letter.
The museum's director, Ms Virginia Teehon, said it would co-operate with any investigation into the Hunt collection.
Separately, The Irish Times has established that the board of the Hunt Museum commissioned a report, in the form of an essay, from Limerick-based art historian Ms Judith Hill in 1998 which claimed that John and Gertrude Hunt were active in the art market in post-war Germany. The essay was never published and there was no investigation into any Nazi connection.
Dr Samuels said "sources" had indicated that John and Gertrude Hunt had "intimate business relationships with notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis".
He declined last night to identify such dealers, but said work was in course on documentation. "When we're ready, we'll come out with it," he said.
He said in his letter to the President that the Hunts had "close personal ties" in the 1940s with Adolf Mahr, the Austrian Nazi who was then director of the National Museum of Ireland. In addition, the letter also alleged that the Hunts' arrival in Ireland in 1940 was "one step ahead of British suspicions of their alleged espionage".
Dr Samuels called on the museum to publish details about the museum's entire collection on the Internet so that eventual claimants could "scrutinise these objects in the manner of suspect art held by museums worldwide". Ms Teehon said she was willing to do this.
The museum's chairman, Mr George Stacpoole, rejected the allegations from the Wiesenthal Centre. "As far as I'm aware there are no problems whatsoever," he said. "In many ways I think it's unfair because no-one has come up with any facts."
Mr John Hunt jnr and Ms Trudi Hunt, son and daughter of the Hunts, told The Irish Times yesterday that there was no foundation to the allegations. Mr John Hunt jnr said: "I have never heard anything remotely like that. I think it's bizarre. It's so over the top that I'm not concerned."
The essay commissioned by the museum board five years ago noted that the Hunts had made an extended visit to Germany in the 1940s.
Titled John and Gertrude Hunt, Virtuoso Collectors and Benefactors, it said: "Wide-scale Nazi thefts and the looting endemic in wars exacerbated the hazards of art dealing, causing many items to lose provenance: this too coloured the environment in which art changed hands in the mid-20th century. The Hunts fitted seamlessly into this world."
Mr John Hunt jnr and Ms Trudi Hunt received tax relief worth €762,000 in 1999 when they donated some of their own collection to the State.