A Girl Reading

Painted in 1845/50 by Camille Corot. Stolen from the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg in 1941.

A Girl Reading by Camille Corot has a turbulent history. It once belonged to the French-Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who was an important gallery owner and collector in Paris. His collection of Impressionist paintings was considered one of the most important of its time.1 After the Nazi invasion of Paris, Rosenberg was forced to close his gallery and flee the country. Like countless other works, this painting was confiscated by the «Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg» and handed over personally to Hermann Göring in September 1941. A few months later, in April 1942, the Nazis exchanged it with the Lucerne gallery owner Theodor Fischer for other works that were more in keeping with their taste and ideal of art. Through these coincidences, Emil Bührle finally got his chance, and in the same month he was able to pounce and secure the painting for his own rapidly growing collection.

In June 1948, as part of the so-called «looted property trials» or «Raubgutprozesse», the Swiss Federal Court ruled that Bührle had to return this and other works to their rightful owner Paul Rosenberg. But Bührle must have grown fond of this painting: Four weeks later he bought it back from Rosenberg.

Today, the Bührle Collection boasts in its own audio guide that it is the owner of the «rare figure paintings»2 by Camille Corot. The audio ends on the light-hearted note that this painting is one of several that Bührle «acquired twice». This phrase represents the entire historical contextualisation to which the Kunsthaus is currently prepared. It is a deliberate attempt to gloss over what «acquiring» in this time actually meant: being a beneficiary of the Shoah and a purchaser of stolen property. In this way, Bührle was not only a customer, but also served as an accomplice of the National Socialists.

To this day, however, the Kunsthaus prefers to rely on the sanitised version that Bührle did not know anything about all this. Proof of this seems to be found in Bührle’s testimony in court at the time. Even in 1942, when the arms supplier bought the work from the Lucerne gallery owner Theodor Fischer, he was allegedly unaware of the expropriation of Jewish property by the Nazis.

«I didn’t have any specific reasons to ask questions back then. However, I was surprised that now, all of a sudden, Fischer had a selection in rare abundance to show. Fischer is a very well-known dealer, and I simply assumed that he had managed to track down a favourable acquisition opportunity, [...]. The expropriation of Jewish art property by Germans in occupied countries had not yet become known at all. I personally was not aware of a single case of this kind in Germany. I heard that some enterprises had been ‹aryanised/arisiert›, but never that paintings had been taken away.»3

Again in the audio guide, the Kunsthaus resorts to the same claim of good faith: they suggest it was only after the end of the Second World War that it became apparent that these paintings had been confiscated alongside other Jewish property by the Nazis in occupied France. The Kunsthaus deliberately ignores the fact that collectors like Bührle required in-depth knowledge of the state of the art market at the time of their collecting activities. They could have known and must have known that these paintings had been stolen.

The Bührle Collection exists to this extent only because of and as a direct consequence of the annihilation of Jewish people in Europe. Instead of a serious examination of the origins of the collection, the Kunsthaus conveys the narrative of  a long-past injustice that has been atoned for. With audio guides and exhibition texts that treat the Shoah as a historical footnote; with discrete QR codes that lead to meaningless lists.


1.  Buomberger 1998, p. 41–42.
2. Collection Emil Bührle.
3. Schweizerisches Bundesgericht 1950, p. 8–9.


Collection Emil Bührle, Camille Corot, A Girl Reading (accessed on May 6th 2023).

Buomberger 1998
Thomas Buomberger, Raubkunst – Kunstraub. Die Schweiz und der Handel mit gestohlenen Kulturgütern zur Zeit des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Zürich 1998.

Collection Emil Bührle
Collection Emil Bührle, Audioguide Nr. 260 (accessed on May 6th 2023).

Schweizerisches Bundesgericht 1950
Schweizerisches Bundesgericht, Raubgutsachen Bührle / Dr. Raeber / Fischer / Eidgenossenschaft. Verhandlung vom 18./19. Dezember 1950 im Obergerichtsgebäude Bern (accessed on May 6th 2023).