Art looted by Nazis at center of row as Russian dealer who has 'hoarded' paintings fights extradition to Poland

Daily Mail 19 May 2015
By Chris Pleasance

Alexander Khochinskiy, 64, a Russian art dealer, says he will fight extradition to Poland after he was accused of hoarding a stolen artworks.

A Russian art collector under arrest in New York for allegedly harboring a famous Polish painting taken by the Nazis during the Second World War is fighting extradition from America.

Alexander Khochinskiy, 64, was arrested by the FBI in February this year after Polish authorities demanded he be brought to justice for illegally possessing Antoine Pesne painting 'girl with dove'.

Khochinskiy, who is currently under house arrest in Manhattan, has never denied possessing the painting, but says international diplomacy has prevented him from giving it back.

In papers filed last Thursday, his lawyers say there is no crime in him keeping the painting in a Moscow art studio, and his failure to return it only represents 'a failed negotiation.'

The row began in 1943, when the Nazi Army looted 'a girl with dove' from the National Museum of Poznan, who had bought it from the Prussian royal family.

It was originally painted in 1754 by Antoine Pesne, the French-born court painter to Prussian King Frederick II, and was transferred to Poznan in 1931.

After being taken by Hitler's troops, the painting made its way to Berlin, where it eventually fell into the hands of the Red Army after they conquered the city in 1945.

The artwork then somehow passed into the hands of Khochinskiy's father, though the art dealer says he is not sure precisely how. 

Speaking to  Radio Free Europe, he said: 'Exactly how [he got it], I can’t know, because the war ended in 1945 and I was born in 1951. 

 'It never occurred to us to ask, "Where is that chair from? Where’s the table from? Where’s the painting from? Where’s the carpet from?"'

The work in question is a 1754 painting by Antoine Pesne called 'girl with dove' (pictured). While Khochinskiy has never denied owning the work, he says international law is preventing him from giving it back

The painting spent decades hung on the wall of an apartment in Leningrad, today called St Petersberg, until Khochinskiy's father died 1991.

Ownership of the painting then passed to him, and it was moved to an antique salon in central Moscow, which it run by Khochinskiy's wife.

According to Radio Free Europe, Khochinskiy discovered by chance that the Polish authorities were searching for the work, and contacted their diplomats in Russia to arrange to return it.

He says he was trying to strike a deal whereby the painting would be exchanged in return for real estate which he claims his Jewish mother owned in Przemysl, in the country's south east, before she was forced to flee from the Germans.

However, Khochinskiy claims the negotiations stalled in 2011, and he heard nothing more from the Polish authorities until he was arrested in February.

In their most recent court papers, his lawyers say that, even if he wanted to give the painting away, Russian law prevents it.

They say, because the artwork has remained in Moscow, it can only be removed if Poland offers 'fair compensation' and if the Russian authorities agree to it.

Meanwhile Polish officials say the artwork is listed as one of 63,000 works stolen from museums in cultural raids carried out during the Second World War.


The work was taken by the Nazis from Poland in 1943, who took it to Berlin, where it was seized by the Red Army in 1945. Khochinskiy's father then took it back to Russia, and it passed to his son (pictured) in 1991

They say a restitution claim was served on Khochinskiy in 2010 after an independent expert confirmed its authenticity, a claim which Khochinskiy denies.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff has scheduled arguments on Khochinskiy's motion for May 8.

This is also not the first time Khochinskiy has found himself in the midst of an international row over lost antiques.

In 2006 he was revealed as the buyer of a collection of letters that Voltaire wrote to Catherine the Great between 1768 to 1777.

Khochinskiy paid almost £600,000 for the letters, and claims he handed them over to Russian Channel One television, saying they were going to be handed over to president Vladimir Putin as a gift live on air.

Shortly afterwards, the letters disappeared. Konstantin Ernst, the controller of the state-owned TV channel, claims he never received them, and representatives for Putin say the president 'has never, and will never' receive them as a gift. 



1754: Antoine Pesne, court artist to Prussian King Frederick II, paints 'girl with dove'

1931: Work is purchased by National Museum of Poznan, in Poland, and is cataloged as being in their collection

1943: German troops carry out a raid on the city and museum, taking away cultural treasures including the painting. It is then sent back to Nazi high command in Berlin

1945: After the Red Army marches into the German capital it seizes back much of the artwork taken by Hitler's troops, including 'girl with dove'

1945-1991: Painting is somehow acquired by Khochinskiy's father, who brought it back to Moscow after the war, and hung it on the wall of his Leningrad apartment until his death

1991: The painting passes to Khochinskiy after his father's death, and he transports it to Moscow, where it is hung on the wall of his wife's antiques salon

2010: Khochinskiy informs Polish diplomats of the painting's whereabouts after discovering they are searching for it. However, he demands real estate he claims was owned by his mother in return. He says negotiations broke down shortly afterwards
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