El Greco painting looted by Nazis returns to heirs
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El Greco painting looted by Nazis returns to heirs

‘Portrait of a Gentleman’ was seized by the Gestapo after collector Julius Priester fled his home in 1938

Illustrative: El Greco's painting 'Portrait of a Gentleman,' returned to the heirs of its original owner after being looted by Nazis during WWII, March 2015. (Commission for Looted Art in Europe)
Illustrative: El Greco's painting 'Portrait of a Gentleman,' returned to the heirs of its original owner after being looted by Nazis during WWII, March 2015. (Commission for Looted Art in Europe)

An El Greco painting looted by the Nazis has been returned to the heirs of its rightful owner.

The Commission for Looted Art in Europe and Art Recovery International said Tuesday the “Portrait of a Gentleman” has been given back to the heirs of Jewish banker and collector collector Julius Priester.

Priester was a prominent industrialist who fled Vienna in March 1938 when Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

The painting was seized by the Gestapo in 1944.

Priester tried unsuccessfully to locate the painting after the war, and the search by his family and heirs continued after his death.

“It was very moving when they saw it for the first time – it was still in the same frame it was in when it hung in Mr Priester’s apartment,” said Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, in a report from the Daily Mail. “It has taken more than 70 years to reunite the painting with its rightful owners and we are delighted for the family.”

The painting is currently in England, where the heirs live, and was handed over earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Commission for Looted Art in Europe said.

El Gregco's painting 'Portrait of a Gentleman', that was returned to the heirs of its original owner after being looted by Nazis during WWII, March 2015. (photo credit: Commission for Looted Art in Europe)
El Gregco’s painting ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’, that was returned to the heirs of its original owner after being looted by Nazis during WWII, March 2015. (photo credit: Commission for Looted Art in Europe)

In 1953, the Austrian Federal Police informed Priester that the Gestapo had sold the El Greco painting to New York art brokers Knoedler and it had arrived in the United States in 1952.

However, according to the report, art dealer Frederick Mont, who was believed to be holding the painting, refused to admit he had any information about the artwork.

“It turns out Knoedler had the painting for more than 30 years and showed it worldwide with a false provenance,” Webber said.

Investigators said the painting was put up for sale in New York last year, prompting a successful claim by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, who became known as “El Greco,” was born in 1541 in Crete. He specialized as an icon painter — producing works that depicted Jesus and holy scenes — and by 1563 he was recognized as a master. After spending time in Rome he moved to Toledo in Spain in 1577. He died in 1614 and his paintings have been more recently been sold for millions of dollars.

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