CHICAGO (AP) — A German museum received a Baroque landscape painting that went missing during World War II, after being held in the United States for nearly a century, on Thursday.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
In a brief ceremony at the German Consulate in Chicago, the FBI handed over the artwork by Johann Franz Nepomuk Lotterer, an 18th-century Austrian artist, to a representative of the German museum. The painting, which depicts the Italian countryside, was on display during the event.
A year ago, Art Recovery International, a company specializing in locating and retrieving stolen and looted art, discovered the elusive painting when a man in Chicago claimed that it was a “stolen or looted painting” brought back by his uncle after serving in World War II in America.
The painting has been missing since 1945 and was first reported as stolen from the Bavarian State Painting Collection in Munich, Germany. According to a statement from the art recovery company, it was added to the database of the German Lost Art Foundation in 2012.
“Our work at Art Recovery International revolves around researching and restoring artworks that were looted by the Nazis and subsequently found in public or private collections. Occasionally, we come across cases where Allied soldiers may have taken objects home as souvenirs or war trophies,” said Christopher Marinello, the founder of Art Recovery International.
“Just being on the winning side doesn’t justify it,” he added.
The identity of the Chicago resident who owned the painting was not disclosed. Initially, the man asked Marinello to pay for the artwork.
“I explained our policy of not paying for stolen artwork, and the request was unreasonable,” Marinello stated.
“We also know that someone attempted to sell the painting at the Chicago Art Market in 2011, and when the museum made a claim for it, it vanished.”
However, with the assistance of the FBI Art Crime Team, lawyers, and the museum, Marinello successfully negotiated the unconditional surrender of the artwork.
According to the museum, the painting, titled “Landscape of Italian Character,” will now be reunited with another painting that shares similar motifs and imagery.
Together, the two paintings create a picturesque scene depicting shepherds and travelers standing on a river bank with their goats, cows, donkeys, and sheep.
Both paintings will soon be displayed together at Munich’s Alte Pinakothek for the first time since World War II, as confirmed by Bernd Ebert, the museum’s chief curator of Dutch and German Baroque painting.
“Recovering a long-lost painting is a truly rare moment for us,” Ebert remarked. “It’s thrilling.”
Lotterer, an artist born in Vienna, lived from 1700 to 1733.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, many Bavarian museum collections were relocated to secure locations in the region. However, according to the museum, the Lotterer painting has been missing since the beginning of the war, raising suspicions that it may have been looted.
The Bavarian State Painting Collections first initiated a search for the painting between 1965 and 1973, but no leads regarding its whereabouts emerged until many decades later.
Ebert, who flew from Munich to Chicago to retrieve the painting, will carefully wrap the centuries-old landscape in bubble wrap for its journey back home, where it will be touched up and restored, several decades after the incident.
Fortunately, Ebert mentioned that it should fit in his suitcase.
Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.