VA museum to return painting Nazis stole

Boston Globe 22 May 2004
Erik Stetson (AP)

RICHMOND, Virginia -- A painting Nazis stole from an Austrian Jew more than a half-century ago soon will be returned to its original owner's sole heir.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is giving back "Portrait of Jean d'Albon" to art collector Julius Priester's sole heir and the manager of his estate, 78-year-old Kurt H. Schindler of Hampshire, England.

The 16th Century, French School painting is attributed to the Dutch-born Corneille de Lyon.
Schindler said he has been fighting courts, police, museums and collectors around the world since 1953 to secure the return of more than 20 paintings that rightfully were Priester's.
"We're just not making much headway," he said Friday. "This is the first one we've really recovered."

Schindler first called the museum three months ago.

"It was clear from the nature of his information that his claim was serious," said Kathleen Morris, an associate curator at the museum in Richmond. "It's our policy to respond to those kinds of claims as quickly as possible."

Morris said it was the first artwork stolen from Jewish owners during that time period the museum has been asked to return. She said the museum is investigating the history of all its artwork with gaps in ownership records between the years of 1933 and 1945.

She said Schindler's evidence, which included a photograph of the painting and a 1950s European police report, was critical to proving his claim. Eight versions of the painting are known to exist. Morris credited art historians for their research of the artist and the Internet for providing information about Jewish-owned art stolen during World War II.

"It's a shame because we're so many generations out from the people who lost their property," she said. "It's only now, as the children of these people are dying, that the information has become available."

The oil-on-wood-panel painting has been at the museum since 1950, when museum benefactor Wilkins Williams bought it from a gallery in New York. It has lain in storage since 1985, when the museum began an expansion project. Morris said the museum is certain the Wilkins family did not knowingly buy stolen art.

"They would have been as shocked as we were to find out this was stolen," she said.

Museum officials plan to display the painting for two weeks while they arrange to ship it to Schindler, Morris said.

"I was delighted," Schindler said. "I've had so many, sort of, disasters that until I actually see the thing, I won't believe it."

Schindler said he plans to keep fighting to have his estate's remaining paintings returned.
"As long as I can keep going, I'll keep going," he said.
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