FBI helps return Nazi-looted Verzijl painting to foundation | News | DW | 08.02.2017
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FBI helps return Nazi-looted Verzijl painting to foundation

A 17th-century painting seized by the Nazis in 1936 has been returned by US authorities to the heirs of a Jewish art merchant who fled Germany and settled in Canada. The painting was returned thanks to an anonymous tip.

On Wednesday, the Max and Iris Stern Foundation announced that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had helped return the painting "Young Man as Bacchus" to the heirs of a Jewish art dealer who was forced to flee Germany for Canada after the Nazis took power. After getting involved following a request from New York state's Holocaust Claims Processing Office on behalf of the foundation, the FBI recovered the work by the 17th-century Dutch portrait artist Jan Verzijl from an Italian gallery.

"In May 2015, the FBI received a tip that the painting was being sold at an art fair in New York City," the bureau announced on Wednesday. "On May 12, 2015, agents of the FBI's Art Crime Team executed a subpoena and recovered the painting. The painting was owned by the Luigi Caretto Gallery, of Turin, Italy. After informing the gallery owners that the painting was considered stolen, the Luigi Caretto Gallery graciously and unselfishly voluntarily waived its claim of ownership to the painting to allow for its return to the Max and Iris Stern Foundation."

The foundation praised the Turin gallery for its "great generosity" in voluntarily renouncing its claim to the Verzijl painting.

'Acts of theft'

Created and directed by Montreal's Concordia University, the Stern Foundation has become the "world leader" in restoring paintings looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners, its director, Clarence Epstein, told the AFP news agency.

"Recognizing that forced sales of Nazi-era cultural property are equivalent to acts of theft remains the project's guiding principle," Epstein said.

"Young Man as Bacchus" has become the 16th canvas recovered by the foundation, which also works with McGill University in Montreal and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The former Düsseldorf art dealer Max Stern bequeathed his legacy to the three schools before his death in 1987.

Stern fled Germany in 1937 after the Reich's Chamber of Fine Arts ordered his expulsion and gave him just days to sell off more than 200 paintings before he could flee first to England and then to Canada. Held in detention camps in both of those countries upon his arrival, Stern eventually founded Montreal's Dominion Gallery, now one of Canada's most prestigious.

In 2007, a US court ruled that the Nazis' forcing Stern to liquidate his work amounted, beyond any doubt, to theft. Most of Stern's original art holdings remain in Germany, Epstein said.

Recent years have seen Nazi-looted art restored to several families, despite frequent reluctance by the current possessors of the works and perceived stalling on the part of the relevant German officials.  

mkg/sms (AFP, AP)

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