France returns Nazi-looted art

AFP 11 March 2014

France on Tuesday returned three paintings seized by the Nazis to their rightful owners, just the tip of the iceberg in a country where nearly 2,000 such artworks remain unclaimed.

All works of art identified as having been stolen by the Nazis are kept in French museums that are required to report them and put them on display in the hope that the previous owners, their heirs or assignees will spot and claim them.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti returned the three paintings -- "Mountain Landscape" by Flemish artist Joos de Momper (1564-1635), a "Portrait of a Woman" oil canvas dating from the 18th century and a "Madonna and Child" painting -- in an official ceremony.

Filippetti said she was "happy and moved to once again accomplish an act of reparation and justice", which she described as a "moral duty" of her ministry.

"Mountain Landscape" belonged to Baron Cassel van Doorn, a non-Jewish Belgian banker who had homes in France and whose possessions were confiscated by the Nazis in December 1943.

The painting had been housed in a museum in the eastern city of Dijon.

Jacqueline Domeyco, one of van Doorn's granddaughters, said she was "happy to have recovered a memory".

"For a long time in our family nobody spoke of these seizures. It was too tough," said Domeyco, who lives in Chile.

The "Portrait of a Woman" canvas was housed by the famed Louvre museum in Paris, and could be the copy of a portrait of an 18th-century actress by French artist Louis Tocque.

The artwork belonged to art dealers from Berlin, and was auctioned off in January 1935 as part of the public sale of Jewish goods.

The last painting, which the Nazis seized in June 1944 in the southern French city of Cannes and was also held by the Louvre, was claimed by the great-granddaughter of a banker who owned the artwork.

So far, France has managed to return only around 70 pieces of art that were seized by the Nazis to their owners.
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