Prosecutors in the case are facilitating the return of the artwork to the heirs of a renowned Jewish art collector Adolphe Schloss. The forfeiture case was announced on October 19 by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.
Berman wants to return the 1639 painting by Salomon Konick, titled “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill,” to the heirs of Schloss. He told news sources that the artwork was stolen from Schloss by the Nazis in France and ended up in Adolf Hitler’s personal collection in Munich.
“A Scholar Sharpening His Quill” was one of hundreds of pieces taken in 1943 from Schloss, a Jewish art collector in Paris who had a significant private collection of old master works by Dutch and Flemish artists. Schloss’ heirs have reportedly spent decades attempting to recover the stolen works.
The painting ended up in Hitler’s headquarters in Munich, where it disappeared in the aftermath of the war. It resurfaced in November 2017 when a Chilean art dealer tried to sell it through an auction house in New York.
“We can never reverse history and undo the horrors committed at the hands of the Nazis,” Berman said, according to Bloomberg. “But we are steadfast in our determination to remember those who suffered and do what we can to return what was taken.”
The unnamed Chilean dealer who attempted to sell told the auction house—which also wasn’t named in the forfeiture complaint—that her father had bought the painting for 4,500 Deutsche Marks from Walter Andreas Hofer in Munich in 1952, the complaint said.
According to the complaint, “Hofer was Hermann Göring’s chief purchasing agent and as such was a key player in the confiscation and looting of Jewish art collections during the Nazi era.” In 1950, Hofer was tried in absentia by a French military tribunal for his role in looting art during the war. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison, but he was never apprehended by French authorities.
The Konick painting, which was estimated by the auction house to be worth in excess of $5,000, is an identical match to the description and photograph found in the Nazi agency Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg’s (ERR) meticulous catalog of works seized during the war.
Christie’s in New York released a statement saying 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 auction firm said in a statement to Bloomberg.
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