Polish culture minister presents three reclaimed art pieces

TVP World 6 November 2023

On Sunday, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński, presented three artworks that Poland had recovered, including two 18th-century watercolors by Zygmunt Vogl that went missing during World War II. The presentation took place at the Consulate General of Poland in New York City.

These paintings were part of Count Edward Raczyński’s Warsaw collection before World War II. In 1939, along with other works of art, they were deposited in the National Museum in Warsaw to protect them from looting.

Despite these protective measures, the watercolors disappeared during World War II. In 2008, they were purchased at an auction by Marek Kabat, a Polish chemist and collector of Polish artworks living in the U.S., who agreed to return them to Poland.

The drawing by Melchior Steidl was stolen from a private collection in Warsaw in 2005, then sold at auction and acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It was successfully returned from there through cooperation between the ministry and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The watercolors will be displayed at the National Museum in Warsaw, while the drawing will be returned to its rightful owner, from whose collection it was stolen.

Minister Gliński highlighted at the consulate that efforts to restitute stolen Polish artworks and war losses are gaining momentum, as the ministry now reports almost every week on the recovery of artworks from various parts of the world.

However, he acknowledged that despite recovering more than 600 pieces of artwork during his 8-year tenure as culture minister, this is still just a drop in the bucket compared to the immense war losses, which amount to about half a million movable artworks.

“These brutal destructions and systematic looting by the Germans, and later by the Russians, were terrible,” the minister said. He added that in their efforts, the ministry must overcome a “powerful opponent - human greed,” but also legal systems in countries like Russia and Germany that hinder restitution.

Gliński noted that despite the lack of cooperation from Moscow, the ministry is submitting restitution requests - there have been 27 so far - to be prepared in case of a change in the Vladimir Putin regime. “We already have invoices issued there, and it will come back to us,” he emphasized.
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