A Dutch master painting looted by retreating German troops will be returned, says the German Government.
The painting by Dutch master, Jan van Huysum called Vase of Flowers was originally bought by Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany at the start of the 19th century and was displayed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. When Italy joined the war on the side of Germany in 1940 it was moved to a nearby village for safety. However, retreating German forces in 1943, following the Allied invasion of Italy, seized it and other artworks. Ever since then, the gallery has displayed a black and white photo of the painting, adorned with the word ‘stolen’ in various languages.
The painting came to light again in 1991, following German re-unification but the German family in possession of it greedily demanded €2m for it to be returned. The German Government cited its own limitations on crimes more than 30 years old which said prevented it from intervening, however, following calls from Eike Schmidt, the head of Uffizi Gallery, it then contacted the owners. The family argued that their soldier relative had bought it in a market. The German Government countered that the painting had not been removed as part of organised Nazi looting, but had simply been stolen by retreating troops and as such the soldier had no legal right to ownership and could not bequeath it to the family. The Government and the family then reached an undisclosed agreement for the eventual return of the painting. Eike Schmidt, himself a German, has called on Germany to abolish the statue of limitations on art stolen by the Nazis in WWII to all such works can be returned to the rightful owners.
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