Culture Shock: Never mind the Nazis. What about Ireland’s own
Last Updated: Thursday, November 7, 2013, 19:22
The astonishing story of the huge trove of paintings that has emerged from an apartment in Munich makes us think again about
loot. The 1,406 works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Renoir, Munch, Dix, Marc and others are stolen property. Either they were
seized by the Nazis from museums and collectors or their Jewish owners sold them cheaply under appalling duress. Tracing the
rightful owners might be a complex process, but no one is likely to argue with the principle of restitution. Stolen goods must be
returned to the descendants of the rightful owners.
But what if I suggested there is an even bigger hoard of stolen art and artefacts sitting unseen in Dublin? This is not a thought
experiment. In storage at the Decorative Arts and History division of the National Museum of Ireland, at Collins Barracks in
Dublin, is a vast collection of “ethnographic” art. It consists of something of the order of 12,500 objects from the Pacific, the
Americas and Africa. This hoard has two similarities to the Munich trove. It has been out of sight for a very long time. And at
least a significant amount of it is loot, pure and simple. We have a moral obligation to think carefully about what to do with it.