Painting could be Nazi plunder

The Australian News 7 December 2005
Rick Wallace

A family whose art collection was stolen by the Nazis during World War II says a painting in the National Gallery of Victoria is one of its plundered works.

The gallery has spent almost a year investigating the claim, which, if proven, could result in the work being given back to the family - the first repatriation of Nazi-era stolen art in Australia.

The NGV confirmed the victims, a Jewish family who lived in Europe under Nazi rule, had contacted the gallery about the painting after seeing it on its website.

The gallery wants to keep the family's identity and that of the painting confidential during the investigation.

However, it is believed the work is one of about 20 paintings posted on the gallery's website with potentially suspicious gaps in their ownership.

The Nazis stole one-fifth of the world's Western art, from 1933 to 1945, plundering most of it from Jewish families in Germany and its occupied territories.

The NGV was the first gallery in Australia to research the ownership history of its collection and publish a list of those works with gaps to help potential claimants. The list includes several European paintings that passed through Germany or the occupied states during the last century.

These include Meindert Hobbema's The Old Oak, Nicolas de Largillierre's portrait of a crown prince and Sebastiaen Vrancx's The Crossing of the Red Sea.

News of the claim came just days after the National Gallery of Australia began a new investigation into the history of a multi-million-dollar sculpture.

The inquiry was launched last week after The Australian revealed the 16th-century sculpture had passed through the hands of a dealer regarded as having made a fortune dealing in stolen art with senior Nazis.

A spokeswoman for the NGV said the gallery received the query from a male family member late last year and immediately launched an investigation.

"We provided the inquirer with all our information and we are now requesting information from them to assist us," she said. "We are following up in every way possible and committed to helping out."

Many museums and galleries in Europe and the US have had to hand back works to families after they were found to have been looted.
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