German art looted by Soviets turns up in London

Reuters 24 October 2008

BERLIN - Lithographs that once belonged to a German Duke and vanished when the Soviets occupied parts of Germany after World War Two, have turned up at Sotheby's in London, a spokesman for the auction house said. 

Although Sotheby's was able to confirm the authenticity of the lithographs, its spokesman said he was not immediately able to offer a comment from an in-house expert on the matter. 

The 249 lithographs, archived in folders or cassettes, were to be auctioned in London in June, when a German art collector identified them as pieces presented to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin by the Russian Tsar before World War One. 

 "The two cassettes belong to a set of three, which vanished when the Soviets looted German properties in the summer of 1946," said Andreas Roloff, the director of rarities at a government library in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in eastern Germany. 

"Our archives and information all point towards these pieces being the ones that were missing for over six centuries. None of the experts we consulted have doubts about this," he added. 

Studies have shown that they were printed around 1840 in St. Petersburg. Roloff estimates that they are collectively worth about 250,000 euros ($321,300). 

According to Berlin's Humboldt University, the Soviets plundered more than a million books and thousands of pieces of "Beutekunst", or "looted art" at the end of the World War Two. Many pieces have still not been traced down. 

The prints, which Roloff said were submitted to Sotheby's by a private German art lover, were pulled out of the collection and are being kept in a high security room in London, the auction house told German daily Die Welt. 

Roloff said that it had not been decided what will happen to the pieces now. 

"The most elegant solution would be to bring them back to Mecklenburg," he said.

(Reporting by Josie Cox, editing by Paul Casciato)
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