Utah museum returns painting looted by Nazis

The Boston Globe 2 April 2004
Alexandria Sage (AP)

SALT LAKE CITY -- More than a half century after a Paris art gallery was looted by Nazis, one of the paintings that was taken has been returned to the owner's daughter.

The small pastoral painting, "Les Jeunes Amoureux" by Francois Boucher, was part of a collection of hundreds that disappeared after Jewish art dealer Andre Jean Seligmann fled with his family to the United States. The painting was donated to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts by a collector in 1993.

David Dee, the museum's executive director, returned the painting to Seligmann's daughter, Claude Delibes, and his daughter-in-law, Suzanne Geiss Robbins, on Thursday.

"We are very excited to get this painting from the museum," said Delibes, of New York City.

Robbins estimated that about 400 paintings were looted from Seligmann's gallery, and only 25 percent have been returned. The Louvre recently returned a painting of the Crucifixion to the family after discovering it was owned by Seligmann, who died in 1945.

Delibes recounted how Hermann Goering, a top aide to Adolph Hitler, came into her father's gallery in the late 1930s to admire the collection.

"Apparently Mr. Goering had visited the gallery and my father knew very well who Mr. Goering was and he threw him out," she said.

After her father fled the country, Goering sent trucks to confiscate his art, Delibes said.
Toward the end of the war, when it was evident the Nazis would lose World War II, Goering sent a trainload of stolen art from his hunting lodge to the relative safety of Bavaria, but the train was abandoned and the art looted.

The Boucher painting remained missing until 1967, when it showed up in a New York gallery. It was bought in 1972 by Val Browning, an heir of the Ogden, Utah-based Browning Firearms Co. He donated it to the Salt Lake City museum 21 years later.

Last year, a researcher at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. working on a book about Goering's art collection found the painting in Utah through an Internet search. Nancy Yeide alerted the museum, which launched its own investigation.

Robbins commended the museum for what she called their "honor" and "integrity" in returning the painting.

"The actions you're taking today have been a wonderful message and a happy ending to a distressing story," Robbins said.

David Carroll, director of collections, said the painting had not recently been appraised, and declined to estimate its value.

The women will return the painting to New York, but haven't yet decided whether to sell it.
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