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Berlin museum returns, then buys back Nazi-looted Pissarro from Jewish heirs

Alte Nationalgalerie’s president thanks family of Armand Dorville for allowing purchase of ‘A Square in La Roche Guyon,’ which French lawyer had purchased in 1928

German art historian and gallery director Ralph Gleis stands next to a Pissarro painting that was looted by the Nazis, on October 18, 2021. (CHRISTOF STACHE /AFP)
German art historian and gallery director Ralph Gleis stands next to a Pissarro painting that was looted by the Nazis, on October 18, 2021. (CHRISTOF STACHE /AFP)

BERLIN — Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie museum on Monday handed back and repurchased a painting by French Impressionist Camille Pissarro looted by the Nazis from the collection of Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville.

Representatives of the Dorville family signed an agreement for the museum to return and buy back “Une Place a la Roche-Guyon” (“A Square in La Roche Guyon”), part of the Berlin institution’s permanent collection.

“I am very grateful to Armand Dorville’s heirs for making it possible for us to purchase the work for the Alte Nationalgalerie and for coming to Berlin especially for this purpose,” said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which runs the Berlin museum.

He did not reveal how much the museum had paid for the painting but said the family wanted it to remain on public display and the deal had been achieved in a spirit of “good cooperation.”

Painted in 1867, “A Square in La Roche Guyon” was acquired by Armand Dorville in Paris in 1928.

After moving to the south of France, Dorville died in 1941 and his collection was distributed to museums and private collectors.

“Une Place a la Roche-Guyon” or “A Square in La Roche Guyon” By Camille Pissarro (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie)

The family was unable to flee occupied France and most members were killed by the Nazis, who occupied the country from 1940-1944.

Several close relatives of Dorville’s brother Charles perished at Auschwitz.

The Alte Nationalgalerie acquired “A Square in La Roche Guyon” from a London gallery in 1961.

The Nazis stole thousands of artworks from Jewish families during World War II and their restitution has been a slow process, involving legal battles, complex searches and some stunning finds.

The art plundered by the Nazi regime was intended to be resold, given to senior officials or displayed in the Fuehrermuseum (Leader’s Museum) that Adolf Hitler planned for his hometown of Linz but was never built.

In January 2020, two paintings by Jean-Louis Forain and a third by Constantin Guys were returned to the heirs of Armand Dorville from the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Third Reich-era art dealer.

More than 1,500 artworks were discovered in 2012 in the possession of the Munich pensioner, who died in 2014.

His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis from 1938.

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