The two works, which belonged to the National Museum in Warsaw, were passed over to President Bronislaw Komorowski on Thursday in New York, where the UN General Assembly is currently taking place.
During a ceremony at the Polish Consulate, the president expressed his delight at retrieving the paintings, noting that the twists and turns of the saga were reminiscent of a Hollywood film.
The ceremony was also attended by Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski, who said in his remarks that in view of the huge losses which Poland experienced as a result of the two world wars and national uprisings, every object of art returned to Poland has high spiritual and emotional value.
The two paintings were seized last year by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement following information provided by the Polish government.
Poland filed a plea in 2006, when it came to light that the paintings had come into the possession of two New York auction houses.
The hunting scenes had been looted after German SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Benno von Arent took charge of the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw in August 1944. Von Arent was also the bearer of the title “Reichsbeauftragter für die Mode” (Reich Agent For Fashion).
Poland’s Ministry of Culture is currently searching for approximately 60,000 works of art that disappeared during the war, among them Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man”, which belonged to the world-renowned Czartoryski Museum.
“No one can ever provide just compensation to the victims of the Nazis’ atrocities, but it is very gratifying for our office to play a role in returning the art that they looted during World War II to its rightful owners,” said New York US Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.
Julian Fałat (1853-1929) was one of Poland’s most prominent landscape painters and impressionists. The two recovered paintings – ‘The Hunt in Nieśwież’ and ‘Before the Hunt in Rytwiany’ – are among the finest examples of his interest in hunting as subject matter.
According to the Polish Ministry of Culture, the list of art objects which went missing during World War Two and earlier, were looted or destroyed, includes over 60,000 items. (nh/mk/jb)