The International Foundation for Art Research: Facilitating Small Miracles
The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), headquartered in New York, was recently instrumental in restituting to the heirs of its rightful owner a Nazi-looted drawing formerly attributed to Rembrandt.
The drawing of pen and bistre on paper, entitled The Liberation of St. Peter from Prison, was part of the vast collection of Old Master works in the hands of the late Dr.Arthur Feldmann of Brno,Czechoslovakia. Upon the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15th, 1939, Dr. Feldmann’s collection was seized and Feldmann and his wife were captured. Feldmann would die after imprisonment and torture; his wife was sent to Auschwitz where she too perished.
The Liberation of St. Peter from Prison would remain at large until 2002, when the American owner of the drawing learned that it may have belonged to Feldmann’s collection. After analysis, IFAR deemed that it was indeed one of the works stolen from Feldmann on that day more than sixty years ago and, as such, the American owner offered to return the painting to Feldmann’s heirs without compensation.
“The extraordinary gesture of the American owners who have chosen to remain anonymous,” says IFAR Executive Director Dr. Sharon Flescher, “to learn the truth about a drawing for which no claim had been made to them, and then to offer to restitute the work without recompense or public recognition cannot be overestimated.”
IFAR was established in 1969 to serve as an impartial and scholarly body to educate the public about problems and issues in the art world and to research and authenticate works of art—public services it still offers. It later expanded its areas of interest.
IFAR has been involved in discussions surrounding the complex issues relating to Holocaust-era restitution since 1979, when it covered the landmark civil suit Weimar State Picture Gallery v. Edward Eliçofon. A pair of portraits by Dürer had come to light in the private collection of New York lawyer Eliçofon, who declared that he had bought the paintings in good faith from a young soldier for 450 dollars in 1946.The complex and protracted controversy between Eliçofon and the Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar was settled by the New York Court of Appeals in May of 1982, with an order for the restitution of the paintings to the city of Weimar.
During the same timeframe that IFAR was covering this case, it created the first international archive of stolen art available to the public and became a world leader on the issue and its many ramifications.
In 1991, IFAR helped create the Art Loss Register as a commercial enterprise in order to expand and market its database. IFAR managed ALR’s American operations through 1997; the next year the ALR assumed full responsibility for the database, although IFAR retains ownership. ALR now has offices in New York, London and Cologne and is planning a Russian office in St. Petersburg, Russia, with the help of the Getty Museum and Trust. IFAR remains actively involved in the legal and educational issues surrounding the ownership and theft of art and works closely with the ALR and Interpol to prepare the “Stolen Art Alert” section of the quarterly IFAR Journal.