2 Nazi-looted paintings going back to owners’ heirs

Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Two paintings confiscated by the Nazis from their Jewish owners will be returned to their heirs in separate restitution deals.

On Tuesday, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe and Art Recovery International announced that the oil painting “Portrait of a Gentleman” by El Greco had been returned to the heirs of Viennese industrialist Julius Priester.

The same day, a lawyer for the Rosenberg family announced that the family had signed a deal with the German government that would allow the 1921 painting “Seated Woman” by Henri Matisse to be returned decades after it was looted from collector Paul Rosenberg, according to a report by the French news agency AFP.

The office of Germany’s culture minister, Monika Gruetters, confirmed to The Associated Press that she had signed the order for restitution.

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The Rosenbergs’ lawyer, Christopher Marinello, told AFP that the agreement must be affirmed by a probate court before the painting could be returned — a step he anticipated as being “a pro forma exercise.”

The Matisse painting was part of the cache of artworks found in the apartment of the late collector Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer who trafficked in looted works of art. After his death, Gurlitt left his entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland. The museum accepted the collection and promised to participate in a process by which German authorities would attempt to return any looted works to their rightful owners. The Gurlitt collection is worth an estimated $1.26 billion.

The El Greco portrait was sold by a series of dealers after World War II until last June, when it was noticed being put up for sale in New York. The Commission for Looted Art in Europe made a claim on the painting and a settlement was subsequently reached for its return.

Last week, Gruetters signed a restitution agreement for a painting by Max Liebermann.