A Hungarian lost art dispute to last a lifetime

Caroline Hendrix, Senior Writer

Can you imagine having all of your prize-possessions ripped away from you? This is the harsh reality for the heirs of a well-known Hungarian banker and art collector, Baron Mor Lipot Herzog. He had an exquisite eye for picking out some of the most famous masterpieces we have in museums and universities across Europe to date, from artists ranging from Francisco Goya to Anthony Van Dyck. It was not Herzog’s intention for his collection of more than 2,000 pieces to be spread out across the globe, and his relatives are still fighting for its return decades later.

According to the New York Times, after Herzog’s death, his children became the inherited owners of his collection and, although they managed to hide it in an attempt to prevent it from being looted during World War II, Nazi officials in assistance with the Hungarian government managed to find and seize many of the works. Some pieces went to museums and universities in Hungary, while others were sent to various locations throughout Europe. Even after the war ended, most of the collection remains in these locations instead of being returned to the Herzog family. The Art Newspaper explains that heirs of Herzog are fighting in court for the return of over 40 pieces that are said to value at over $100 million. The economic aspect of this case is hard to ignore. If my family had possessions worth $100 million ripped away from us against our will and not returned eventually, I would hold the same anger as Herzog’s heirs. And while their intentions for wanting to reclaim the collection may not be surrounding its economic value, it would be hard to believe that it is not a massive aspect.

The family has been awaiting the retrieval of the collection since the end of World War II when Herzog’s son-in-law, Alfonz Weiss de Csepel, began writing to various countries asking for help according to an article from the New York Times. The article explains that even today, there is no end in sight after 75 years of the Herzog family’s efforts and the Hungarian government is being criticized for its lack of action.

Overall, the heirs of Baron Herzog and their fight for the retrieval of his remarkable collection is an illuminating factor of lasting effects of the Nazi era. And the case is a tricky one. From Herzog’s perspective, it is just that the collection that they inherited be returned to them. But the spread of this collection into various universities and museums has fostered knowledge and a greater understanding of the period through the lens of the artists from which Baron had collected from. Is it right for these pieces to be locked up for only a select few to see or are they of more value where anyone can visit and experience the cultures that they depict?

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