Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



Over the years, governments have been faced with preservation problems posed by war, theft and uncontrolled access to cultural sites. In addition, they have become increasingly sensitive to the unrestricted exodus of culturally important works of art. Their attempts to deal with these problems have raised serious questions about the nature of state responsibility in this field, about the criteria employed to define a particular cultural heritage and to classify certain work as falling within it, and about the right of nations to claim exclusive control of designed works of art. The difficulty in answering these questions has been compounded by the greatly accelerated pace of market transactions caused in part by the conversion of art into a vehicle for investment as well as for cultural enrichment. These market forces have often created disproportionate demands on the cultural stores of certain nations. Consequently, faced with the prospect of widespread loss of cultural treasures, some states have simply refused to permit a continued art exodus. Allowing for a legitimate state interest in this area, the question of the permissible extent of state control remains, especially in light of the universal nature of art and its importance in the development of numerous societies.

This article will survey various attempts by states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to preserve and protect great works of art and to define the nature and extent of a national cultural heritage. It will also examine current national and international preservation mechanisms in light of the need for cultural inter-change.