Germany To Return Presidential Painting To Jewish Heirs

dpa 22 February 2007

Germany is to return a painting that hung for many years in the presidential palace in Bonn to the heirs of a Jewish art collector who sold it in the 1930s, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

The 1857 painting, Fiat Justitia, is by Carl Spitzweg, a leading painter of Germany's Biedermeier style.

It was owned in the 1930s by Leo Bendel, a Jewish businessman who perished in the Holocaust.

His sale of the painting during the 1930s to a German art dealer had the character of a forced sale under a Nazi ban on Jewish ownership of art treasures, a government inquiry in Berlin has ruled.

An agreement with the heirs to restore the painting had to be approved by the Finance Ministry, which administers federal property. A ministry spokeswoman said the painting had never been confiscated, but evidence suggested its sale was prompted by the Nazi ban.

There has been growing controversy in Germany and the Netherlands about restitution of Jewish-owned art which is hundreds of times more valuable today than in the 1930s. Museums have argued in some cases that the dealers paid fair market prices for the art in the 1930s.

Berlin decided to return the painting under the Washington Principles, an agreement on restitution of Holocaust-linked art treasures.

A Berlin magazine, Cicero, said the painting had hung till last year in the Villa Hammerschmidt, the presidential second home in Bonn. Bendel died in 1940 in the Nazis' Buchenwald concentration camp. His widow failed in a bid for compensation after the War.

In 1949, the Allies had conveyed Fiat Justitia into the hands of the federal German government. In 1961 it was added to the presidential art collection. The Bendel heirs retained historical researchers to investigate its provenance.

Presidential officials said it was taken off the wall last May after the president's staff were told it was Holocaust art.
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