Ukraine unlikely to return German paintings

AP 13 November 2008
By Maria Danilova

KIEV, Ukraine --Ukraine is unlikely to return more than a dozen paintings by Western European artists brought here from a German museum as Soviet war trophies during World War II, an official said Thursday.

The German Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it wants to negotiate the return of the works, which are on exhibit at the Simferopol Art Museum in Crimea.

The Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen, Germany, claimed the paintings after receiving a letter this month from German tourists who spotted them in Simferopol.

Simferopol Art Museum director Larina Kudryashova said the museum had 87 works by 16th to 20th century painters from the Netherlands, Germany and France, but that not all of them initially belonged to the museum in Aachen. She said she is now studying its catalogues to see how many works match.

But Ukrainian law prohibits the return of World War II trophy art, she noted, adding that many Ukrainian paintings seized during the war have been exhibited in Germany but "nobody is returning them to us."

Heinrich Becker, curator of the Aachen museum's gallery of lost artworks, said he believes 15 of the missing paintings are at Simferopol and was certain about nine of them after seeing a DVD of the exhibition made by a German couple on holiday.

He said the paintings included Hans Herrmann's "October Morning in Amsterdam," Johann Gottfried Pulian's "Aachen Cathedral," August von Brandis' "Autumn Sun," Gregor von Bochmann's "Farmhouse in Estonia," Carl Georg Adolph Hasenpflug's "Roman Cloister," Christian Friedrich Mali's "Shepherd Resting," and Pedro Orrente's "John the Baptist."

Becker also cited two painting by anonymous artists, "The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian."

The curator said he identified six others to a high degree of probability.

"We would, of course, be pleased if the paintings were to be returned, but the most important thing is knowing that they haven't been destroyed," Becker said.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment.

Ukraine and Germany are disputing the right to a number of artworks seized during the war. There have been similar art disputes between Germany and Russia. 

Associated Press Writer William Peacock contributed to this report from Berlin.

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