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After 71 years, Belgian museum gives back Nazi-looted painting to Jewish family

Descendants of Gustav and Emma Mayer still looking for 29 more art pieces after German painter’s 1913 ‘Flowers’ returned

Belgian State Secretary for Scientific Policy, Recovery Program and Strategic Investments Thomas Dermine (left) and the lawyer of the Mayer family Imke Gielen (right) hold 'Blumenstilleben' ('Flowers'), at the Belgium Royal Museums of Fine-Arts in Brussels, on February 10, 2022. (John Thys/AFP)
Belgian State Secretary for Scientific Policy, Recovery Program and Strategic Investments Thomas Dermine (left) and the lawyer of the Mayer family Imke Gielen (right) hold 'Blumenstilleben' ('Flowers'), at the Belgium Royal Museums of Fine-Arts in Brussels, on February 10, 2022. (John Thys/AFP)

After 71 years, a leading art museum in Belgium has returned a painting to the great-grandchildren of a Jewish couple whose property was looted by the Nazis after they fled on the eve of World War II.

The family’s attorneys had approached the Musees royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museums of Fine Arts) more than five years ago, and after a briefing signing ceremony on Thursday, workers took down the painting, Reuters reported Thursday. None of the nine great-grandchildren, who live outside Belgium, were present at the ceremony.

“Altogether the family is looking for 30 artworks,” the family’s lawyer Imke Gielen was quoted saying by the news agency. “This is the first that has been really identified because unfortunately we have no images of the missing paintings.”

The work of pink flowers in a blue vase painted by German artist Lovis Corinth in 1913, belonged to Gustav and Emma Mayer, who fled their Frankfurt home in 1938 to Brussels before continuing on to Britain in August 1939, according to the report.

At the time, they were unable to take belongings, including the 30 paintings that were plundered by the Nazis.

After the war, Belgian authorities failed to establish who “Flowers” belonged to and in 1951 entrusted it to the museum, where it has hung since.

A staff member of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts carries ‘Blumenstilleben’ (‘Flowers’), a painting by Lovis Corinth, after Belgium returned it  to the descendants of a couple of German Jews Gustav and Emma Mayer, at the Belgium Royal Museums of Fine-Arts in Brussels. on February 10, 2022. (John Thys/AFP)

Museum chief Michel Draguet told Reuters it had been difficult to find the original owners of the artwork, since the family was not living in Belgium. In 2008, the museum appealed to the public on its website for information on the painting.

The museum has also opened two rooms containing and addressing Nazi-looted art and works taken by Belgium during its colonial period, the report added.

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