Recovered Art

This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room

“This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room”

by Craig Gilmore via “LA Times”

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Two agents from U.S. Homeland Security’s ICE unit arrived at my door in September looking for a Polish lady — not a person, but a painting: Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady.” She had, they informed me, been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw.

Unsure if these gentlemen were indeed who they claimed to be, I didn’t invite them in. But I knew exactly what they were seeking: My partner, David, and I had purchased this very portrait — ostensibly the work of a different artist — a decade earlier from a major auction house in New York. 

Upon their leaving, I stood dumbfounded, holding a packet of information about the alleged provenance of our painting. After calling David at work to drop this bombshell, I began a Googling frenzy, eventually bringing me to Poland’s Division for Looted Art website. Seconds later I was gawking at an old black-and-white photo of our beloved lady, a beautiful portrait painted on oak panel in 1628. Tears welled in my eyes with the realization that, without question, if this were true we needed to do our duty and get her safely home.

Being an opera singer, I was among a group of vocalists on a government-sponsored tour of Israel some years ago. During a visit to a community center for Holocaust survivors I was asked to sing. The emotion of being surrounded by people who had prevailed through such unimaginable horrors was overwhelming, and I found myself unable. Excusing myself, I attempted to make up for it by spinning several of the ladies around the dance floor — all the while trying not to look down at the numbers tattooed on their wrists. 

Now this memory flooded back to me, and I found myself once again in tears, hyper-aware of how Nazi atrocities affect us still to this day.

The toll of World War II in Poland — including the deaths of 6 million Poles, Jews, and other outcasts, including homosexuals — is unimaginable. Being gay men, David and I feel a personal connection with these losses and are conscious of how political shiftings can lead to vulnerability. This, added to the knowledge that Poland’s LGBTQ community is still in a struggle for its basic rights, has weighed heavily on our minds. 

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Take in long-lost, wartime art attributed to Chihiro

“Take in long-lost, wartime art attributed to Chihiro”

by “The Japan News

The Yomiuri ShimbunThree long-lost paintings believed to have been produced by the popular picture book author Chihiro Iwasaki (1918-1974) are on display at her namesake museum in Tokyo.

The works were discovered last year at the Nippon seinenkan (foundation of Japan-youth center) in Tokyo. One of the three works is making its public debut at the ongoing exhibition, titled “Commemorating 70 Years of Non-war — Chihiro’s Wish for Peace,” at the Chihiro Art Museum Tokyo in Nerima Ward.

The discovery was significant because many of the artist’s works created before and during World War II were lost in air raids.

“We want people to think about the war through Chihiro’s works, which were produced at a time when people were not allowed to freely create art,” said a museum official. . . . .

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The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art

“The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art”

by Ellen Otzen via “BBC News

Captain Walker, seated, on the right, in Benin City after British troops looted the palace

At the end of the 19th Century British troops looted thousands of works of art from the Benin Empire – in modern-day Nigeria – and brought them home. One soldier’s grandson inherited two bronzes but recently returned them to their original home.

“It’s an image that’s deeply ingrained in my memory. The dead body seemed unreal. It’s not a picture you can easily forget,” says Mark Walker.

He was 12 years old when he first saw his grandfather’s diary – the photographs inside made a deep impression.

“They were very faded, but perhaps the most shocking one for me was a partly dried-up body being held up by two men on a pole.

“Clearly the people lifting the body didn’t actually want to touch it and that seemed to me to capture the feeling my grandfather also had about them. It was something so horrible you wanted to keep it at arm’s length,” says Mark.

The pictures were taken by his grandfather, Capt Herbert Walker, in West Africa in 1897.

The two Walkers never met – Herbert died in 1932, 15 years before his grandson was born and Mark’s grandmother showed him the journal, titled To Benin and back, while he was staying with her in 1959.

The diary cover

The Benin Kingdom, which is now part of Nigeria, had a wealth of natural resources including ivory, palm oil and rubber which the UK was keen to control.

Mark Walker spoke to Witness on BBC World Service Radio

But in January 1897, seven British officials who were on their way to see the Oba of Benin – the king – were killed in an ambush.

The Times of London reported that the men “on quite a peaceful mission” had been “massacred by the King’s people”.

Map of Nigeria showing location of Benin City

It is unclear who, if anyone, ordered the killings and there are indications that the mission was not as peaceful as the British press described it. Although its leader, acting Consul-General James Phillips had sent a message to the Oba asking to discuss trade and peace, he had told London he wanted to depose him.

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Ohio Art Museum to Return Likely Stolen Artifact to Germany

“Ohio Art Museum to Return Likely Stolen Artifact to Germany”

via “ABC News

A 450-year-old German artifact that was used to tell time and to make astronomical calculations will be returned to a German museum from which it was likely stolen, according to the Toledo Museum of Art.

The device, called an astronomical compendium or astrolabe, disappeared from the Gotha Museum in Gotha, Germany, sometime in 1945.

“This was a one-of-a-kind scientific device,” said Brian Kennedy, president and director of the Toledo museum. “It’s sad to see it go, but it’s not ours.”

Americans occupied Gotha during the war and many of the museum’s collections were moved in 1945 to the former Soviet Union once authority over the area was transferred from United States.

The astronomical device, though, was one of the few items from the museum that didn’t end up in the Soviet Union. Instead, it landed in the hands of a New York art dealer before it was sold for $6,500 in 1954.

The museum in 2013 received a letter from the director of the Gotha Museum, saying that it found out about the piece in Toledo and believed it was theirs.

Kennedy said they reviewed documentation, including photographs, from the Gotha Museum and determined that the piece on display in Toledo was “most likely one and the same.”

The two museums then reached an agreement to get the historically valuable piece back to its rightful owner, Kennedy said. . . .

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