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Police confiscate stolen painting found on antiques TV show

1970
1945
The Local 7 September 2009

Bavarian police said on Monday they had confiscated a valuable painting likely stolen by the Nazis after it turned up on an antiques appraisal TV show.

After calling for witnesses to reveal the owner, the authorities decided to confiscate the painting from an elderly Munich resident.

Two days after they sought help from the public to locate the 17th-century painting by Flemish artist Frans Francken the Younger, a 67-year-old relative of the painting's owner called investigators on Friday to say it was hanging in her relative’s Westend district apartment. She told police she had seen the police appeal in a regional newspaper.

“We’re not sure if we’ll be able to question the owner,” Munich police spokesperson Ludwig Waldinger told The Local. “She’s very ill in the hospital and she’s 93-years-old.”

Police secured the painting on Friday, and it will remain in Munich police custody while investigators try to piece together what happened to the 1606 painting after it was likely looted from Adolf Hitler’s Munich reception building, the Führerbau, as American troops approached near the end of World War II.

It was in this building that the Nazis had amassed some 723 paintings gathered by the Sonderauftrag Linz, an organisation formed by Hitler to collect art for his planned Führermuseum in his hometown of Linz, Austria. Some 650 of these paintings, gathered by Dresden State Art Collections, went missing when the Nazis fled.

The last physical evidence of the painting’s origin shows that it belonged to a French family and was purchased on October 14, 1943 by a Dresden art dealer, Waldinger said. It is now worth an estimated €100,000.

Initial reports said that the painting’s owner may have been Jewish, but Waldinger said police are now unsure of their background.

“There are still so many questions,” he told The Local.

Initial police investigation has revealed that the 93-year-old owner’s parents gave her the painting, entitled “The Sermon on the Mount (Paul in Lystra).” A male relative of the owner submitted the painting to broadcaster Bayrischer Rundfunk’s show Kunst und Krempel, or “Art and Junk,” for appraisal on November 15, 2008. He died in June 2009, Waldinger said.

An art expert saw the 33 by 79.5-centimetre painting on the “Antiques Roadshow” style programme and suspected it might have been stolen, but didn’t call police until six months later to explain his research.

The show asserted its journalistic right to protect its sources, forcing Munich police to go public with their search.

If they find the painting belonged to Adolf Hitler himself, the Bavarian Finance Ministry will take the next steps to find the painting a home, Waldinger said. If its rightful owner was another individual, the federal government will take on the project of restitution, he added.  

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

Original story: The Local 3 September 2009

Munich police are calling for witnesses to reveal the owner of valuable 17th-century painting stolen by the Nazis that recently turned up on an antique appraisal television show.

The painting by Flemish artist Frans Francken the Younger is entitled “The Sermon on the Mount (Paul in Lystra)”, and is worth an estimated €100,000.

Photo: DPA

It appeared on the television show Kunst und Krempel, or “Art and Junk,” on November 15, 2008, during which experts discussed the painting’s value.

“An art expert saw the show, suspected it might be stolen and started doing research,” spokesperson for the Bavarian office of criminal investigation Ludwig Waldinger told The Local on Thursday.

Six months later, in April 2009, he called Munich police to report he believed the painting had been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis.

Criminal investigators and state prosecutors requested that public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reveal the person who submitted the 33 by 79.5-centimetre painting to the antiques show, but they refused.

“They asserted their journalistic right not to reveal their sources – something they are legally allowed to do,” Waldinger told The Local.

Police have traced the painting back to a Jewish family, who bought the painting from a Dresden gallery. When the Nazis ordered paintings to be collected for a new art museum in Adolf Hitler’s hometown of Linz, Austria, the painting was purchased from the family.

“To say they ‘bought’ the painting was actually false,” Waldinger said. The Nazis essentially stole paintings from Jewish families but gave them a symbolic payment and a receipt to give it an official character.”

Police have this receipt, he said.

But before the painting could be taken south to Linz, American troops marched into the region as World War II drew to a close.

Police believe the painting was taken from Hitler’s Munich reception building, the Führerbau, at some point near the end of the war.

“We don’t know what happened to the painting after April 1945,” Waldinger said. “We’re trying to piece together its path after this point and it’s insanely difficult to clarify.”

Depending on how the owner acquired the painting, he or she may face charges of handling stolen goods, Waldinger added.

Munich police are not sure whether there are any surviving relatives of the Jewish family that owned the painting. Should it be recovered, restitution would likely be handled by Germany's Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues (BADV).  

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

http://www.thelocal.de/society/20090907-21759.html
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