A Scholar Sharpening His Quill by Salomon Koninck was one of hundreds of pieces taken in 1943 from the family of Adolphe Schloss, a collector in Paris who had one of the largest private collections of Old Master works by Dutch and Flemish artists, Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement Friday. Schloss's heirs have spent decades trying to recover the looted works.
The painting was eventually taken to Hitler's headquarters in Munich, where it disappeared in the aftermath of the war, according to prosecutors. But in November 2017, a Chilean art dealer tried to sell the painting through a New York-based auction house, which determined the work had been looted from the Schloss collection, and the painting was seized by the FBI, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors are seeking a court ruling ordering the painting to be returned to Schloss's heirs.
"We can never reverse history and undo the horrors committed at the hands of the Nazis," Mr Berman said. "But we are steadfast in our determination to remember those who suffered and do what we can to return what was taken."
The dealer who attempted to sell the work at auction, who wasn't identified by prosecutors, told the auction house - which also wasn't named - that her father had bought the painting in 1952 in Munich from Walter Andreas Hofer, who served as the chief purchasing agent for Hermann Goring, one of Hitler's chief deputies.
Christie's said Friday that it was the auction house that investigated the provenance of the painting and determined that it had been looted.
"Now that the painting and our research outlining evidence of its past looting are in the hands of the federal US authorities, Christie's is pleased to know the process of returning the work to the claimant can now begin," the firm said in a statement.