Dutch museums have identified 139 works of art looted by Nazis during or before World War II that include pieces by such masters as Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky.
The discoveries, which were announced Tuesday, were made during a self-imposed review by museums across the Netherlands in an attempt to identify artwork that had either dubious or definitely suspect origins, The Associated Press reported
"These objects are either thought or known to have been looted, confiscated or sold under duress," Siebe Weide, director of the Netherlands Museums Association, said in the announcement.
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Weide added that returning them is "both a moral obligation and one that we have taken upon ourselves," the AP noted.
Prior to the current investigation, Dutch museums had taken on a similar review of their inventory in 2006 which focused exclusively on art work stolen by the Nazi regime during World War II. The current investigation extended all the way back to 1933.
Overall there were 69 paintings identified in the review, which included Henri Matisse's 1921 "Odalisque," and others by modernists Klee and Kandinsky.
In addition to the paintings, the investigation also uncovered drawings, sculptures, antiquities, and Jewish ceremonial objects.
The announcement also revealed the names of 20 individuals who were among those who had artwork stolen from the by the Nazis. The museums told reporters that they are currently in the process of making contact with their heirs, to return the art works to their rightful owners.
On Tuesday, the museums launched a website to display the artwork, which is presently only available in Dutch, however will be translated into English at a future date.
Dutch museums aren't the first to launch such an inquiry, as Rudi Ekkart, a professor at the University of Utrecht who headed the investigating commission, acknowledged in the announcement saying, "We're not the first with this investigation, but thanks to this investigation we're not far behind."
Both American and British museums have already conducted similar investigations into their inventory, while numerous other European countries, particularly Germany, are still looking into pieces of artwork that are suspected of having been acquired through ties with the Nazi regime.
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