Germany to return Nazi-looted Signac painting to Jewish heirs

Germany to return Nazi-looted Signac painting to Jewish heirs

Work by French neo-impressionist discovered in massive Gurlitt art collection donated to Bern museum by son of Nazi art dealer

Paul Signac, Quai de Clichy (date unknown). (courtesy: German Lost Art Foundation)
Paul Signac, Quai de Clichy (date unknown). (courtesy: German Lost Art Foundation)

German officials said they have identified a painting found in the collection of a reclusive Bavarian collector as art looted by the Nazis, and will soon return it to the heirs of its Jewish owner.

The German Lost Art Foundation said Thursday that “Quai de Clichy,” by French neo-impressionist Paul Signac, was owned by Gaston Prosper Levy before he fled France from the Nazis.

It was discovered, while German authorities were investigating a tax case in 2012, in the possession of the late Cornelius Gurlitt, who had inherited a 1,500-piece trove from his father — an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by Nazis.

The discovery of the stash made headlines around the world and revived an emotional debate about how thoroughly post-war Germany had dealt with art plundered by the Nazi regime.

When Gurlitt died, a Bern museum accepted his collection, though it left about 500 works in Germany for a government task force to research their often murky origins.

But determining their provenance has been slow, and it is still not clear how many of the works were stolen. So far, only a handful have been positively identified and returned so far.

Levy’s heirs weren’t identified.

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.

Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Gruetters, right, overhands the painting ‘Portrait of a Seated Young Woman’ by Thomas Couture to Franz Rainer Wolfgang Joachim Kleinertz, left, and Maria de las Mercedes Estrada, second from left, heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel, during a restitution ceremony in Berlin,on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Just before the end of the war, the United States dispatched to Europe teams of experts — museum directors, curators and educators — to find, protect and rescue cultural treasures.

These work and restitution programs enabled the return of most of the looted works to their owners soon after the end of the war.

But out of 650,000 stolen pieces, about 100,000 had not been returned by 2009, according to figures released at the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in the Czech Republic that year.

Last year, World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder praised Germany for its “exemplary” restitution efforts, but he called for more to be done and noted several other countries that endorsed an international restitution agreement have largely ignored it.

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