The FBI is looking for the owner of this painting

Delano 9 April 2024
By Émilio Naud

A seascape painting that is believed to have disappeared from Luxembourg during the Second World War.  Photo: FBI

This is no ordinary story: the FBI needs the public’s help to find the owner of an artwork by Belgian painter Jacob Jacobs, likely stolen from Echternach during the Second World War.

“FBI seeks public assistance…” That’s how the email starts. On the morning of Monday 8 April, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent out a call for help via the American diplomatic services.

The FBI’s art crime team has “recently rediscovered” a painting in the United States by the Belgian painter Jacobus Albertus Michael Jacobs, also known as Jacob Jacobs, says a press release from the US embassy in Luxembourg, and their aim is to find the true owner of the artwork. The painting--which appears very damaged--depicts a seascape. It is believed to have been stolen from the town of Echternach during the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War.

Born in Antwerp in 1812, Jacobs studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and in Leuven and painted landscapes and seascapes in the romantic style. The artist, who was related to the composer Ludwig von Beethoven through his mother’s side, belonged to the Orientalist movement.

After the highly acclaimed “Landing of Fishermen” at an exhibition in Brussels in 1833, the painter headed for the North Sea, where he developed a strong taste for depictions of the sea and boats. In 1835, at the 16th Salon in Ghent (Palais de l’Université), he exhibited “Naufrage à la vue du port,” a painting bought by a collector from Leuven, Vander Buecken, who later bought several paintings from him.

At the end of the 1830s, Jacobs undertook a tour of North Africa, Greece and Turkey. In 1845, he was one of the Belgian artists who provided illustrations for Hendrik Conscience’s History of Belgium. Among his major works is “The Fall of Sarp on the River Glommen,” exhibited in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

Paintings by Jacobs are estimated on various auction sites at between €2,000 and €70,000, depending on their size and state of conservation. A work from 1842 (79×62cm) is currently on sale for €14,500.

On 25 April 2023, a sale took place at Sotheby’s where an Orientalist painting fetched almost €43,000, an unusual price compared with its average results. At the end of March, another painting, “La halte au bord de l’eau,” estimated at between €1,200 and €1,500, did not reach its reserve price and was not sold at MJV Soudant Gerpinnes.

Another of Jacobs’ paintings is currently for sale at Sotheby’s, with an estimate of €14,000 to €21,000. It previously sold for €8,400 at Horta Brussels in November 2022.

About the art crime team

The FBI's Art Crime Team, set up in 2004 following the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in 2003, focuses on the recovery of stolen works of art. Since its establishment, it has recovered more than 20,000 artefacts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Operating worldwide with the help of special agents and in collaboration with foreign law enforcement agencies, this team fights art and cultural heritage crimes such as theft, fraud, looting and trafficking.

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