France has returned a 16th century work of Nazi-looted art to heirs of the Jewish family that was forced to sell it in Paris during Nazi occupation in World War II.
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French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay handed the painting attributed to Flemish artists Joos van Cleve or his son back to its rightful owners, at a ceremony held on Monday in Paris.
Accepting the art work was Christopher Bromberg, grandson of late German-Jew Henry Bromberg. Azoulay said it had taken too long to restore the art to its owners, but that it was an important historic step.
The Brombergs lived a well-to-do life in Hamburg for generations until the Nazis rose to power. In 1938 Henry, his wife Hertha and their four sons were forced to leave Germany and emigrate to the United States.
In order to finance their voyage, they sold an art collection their family had owned for generations. Much of it went on the market in Paris, a waystation on their trip to freedom.
Some of the paintings had been inherited from the French Jewish collector Rudolph Kahn, a relative who died in 1905. The painting that was returned is a portrait of a nobleman in a fur coat, purchased by the Brombergs in 1912 at an auction in Berlin.
After the sale it wound up via several art dealers in the hands of other dealers who purchased it in Hitler’s name and planned to put it in the museum he had planned for Lintz, the town where grew up.
After the war the Allies found the painting in a hideout near Salzburg, Austria, where it had been sent to protect it from the bombings.
In 1949 it was returned to France, where it was kept and shown for many years at the Louvre and at a museum in Chambray.
After the war thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis were returned to France. Some 45,000 were returned to their owners before 1950. About 2,000 items whose heirs were less obvious, including Bromberg's Flemish painting, were kept in state-owned museums. Only a small number have been returned to their proper owners.
France has been criticized for failing to push for the restoration of art work to its owners. But in recent years it has encouraged Jewish families to present claims for paintings, in accordance with the decisions of an international conference held in Washington in 1998.
Minister Azoulay is Jewish, and her father Andre is an adviser to the king of Morocco. She said at the ceremony that recently France had tracked down 27 owners of stolen art, paving the way to their restoration, as well.