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Looted El Greco returned to rightful heirs

A painting by El Greco, seized by the Nazis 70 years ago, was traded throughout the world and even exhibited in museums, despite official searches for it. An example of the difficult quest to recover looted art.

The heirs of the prominent industrialist and banker Julius Priester (1870-1954) will recover the "Portrait of a Gentleman," a work by the Spanish painter El Greco, said the Commission for Looted Art in Europe in a press conference on Tuesday (24.03.2015). Anne Webber, head of the Commission which represented the successors, told dpa: "It was an early work by El Greco," and the value of the painting could not be determined.

Anne Webber, Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. Copyright: Anne Webber

Anne Webber, Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe

Nazis looted the Jewish industrialist Julius Priester's valuable art collection in 1938 in Vienna. He fled persecution in March that same year and survived the Holocaust in exile in Mexico. In 1944, the Gestapo seized the painting by El Greco and stored Priester's collection in a warehouse in Vienna.

After the Second World War, Julius Priester searched for his stolen works of art, but only recovered a fraction of his precious collection. According to Anne Webber, 21 of his 50 paintings are still missing. "One painting was discovered in an Italian museum," she said.

International looted art trade

Through searches for these stolen works, it was determined that the El Greco painting was initially sold to a New York art dealer. Passing through many different hands, it landed in the possession of a London art dealer, who sold it in 2003 to a private collector in Switzerland.

In June 2014, it was once again available for sale in New York. This prompted the Commission for Looted Art in Europe to claim the return of the painting to its rightful Jewish owners. This finally occurred, after the family spent decades unsuccessfully trying to locate the work.

Anne Webber explained that this painting, looted over 70 years ago, demonstrates how the art market was involved in the sale of Nazi-looted art and how difficult it is for the dispossessed to regain their property. In this case, they only managed to recover the painting once the Commission got involved.

hm/as/eg (dpa/clae news)

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