Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Painting Missing Since WWII is Recovered in Chicago

Art Recovery International is pleased to announce the recovery of a painting by Viennese artist Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer (1700 – 1733). The painting was reported stolen from the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich, Germany, and has been missing since 1945.

In December 2022, Christopher A. Marinello, lawyer and founder of Art Recovery International (“ARI”), was contacted by an individual in Chicago who claimed to possess a “stolen or looted painting” and wanted to know how to go about returning it. It was alleged that the possessor’s uncle had brought the painting home from Germany after serving in the US Army in WWII.

The possessor sent only a few images of the landscape painting to ARI with no information about the artist or title.

Marinello and his team went to work. Turning to his colleagues in Germany, attorneys at WANTUCH THOLE VOLHARD, the artwork was identified as a long-lost Lauterer landscape once part of the collection of the New Bayreuth Palace, a branch gallery of the Bavarian State Painting Collections. The painting had been listed since 2012 on the Lost Art Database maintained by the German Lost Art Foundation which documents cultural property expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution and contains records of cultural property that was removed from Germany during the Second World War. The Lost Art database is accessible to the public.

Marinello explains the delicate negotiations with the possessor, “I shared all the evidentiary documentation of the loss with the possessor who initially wanted to be paid to release the artwork. I explained our policy of not paying for stolen artwork and that the request was inappropriate given the familial connection. We also know that someone tried to sell the painting in the Chicago art market in 2011 and disappeared when the Museum put forth its claim. Eventually, I negotiated an unconditional release of the painting and asked the FBI Art Crime Team to bring the case over the finish line. The FBI in Chicago confirmed the looting and provided the extra confidence to the possessor to surrender the painting unconditionally”.

“The crux of our work at Art Recovery International is the research and restitution of artworks looted by the Nazis and discovered in public or private collections. On occasion, we come across cases, such as this, where allied soldiers may have taken objects home as souvenirs or as trophies of war.  Being on the winning side doesn’t make it right. We expect everyone to do the right thing and return stolen artwork wherever it may be located. The problem of looted art will not go away but is often passed onto future generations to deal with”.

Marinello thanks Chicago-based FBI Special Agent David White, “This repatriation could not have happened without the swift action of the FBI Art Crime Team. Also particularly helpful was the entry of the painting as a war-related loss in the Lost Art database.”

The Lauterer painting will be formally returned to the Museum in a brief ceremony at the German Consulate in Chicago on the 19th of October 202