Belgium’s leading art museum has returned a painting it held for 71 years to the great-grandchildren of a Jewish couple whose property was looted by the Nazis after they fled on the eve of World War II.
The family’s Berlin-based law firm approached the Musees royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museums of Fine Arts) over five years ago and on Thursday, after a briefing signing ceremony, workers took down the painting and wheeled it off to be packed.
“Altogether the family is looking for 30 artworks,” said lawyer Imke Gielen. “This is the first that has been really identified because unfortunately we have no images of the missing paintings.”
None of the nine great-grandchildren, who live outside Belgium, were present on Thursday.
The painting, of pink flowers in a blue vase by German artist Lovis Corinth, belonged to Gustav and Emma Mayer, who fled their Frankfurt home in 1938 to Brussels until their passage to Britain in August 1939.
However, they were unable to take belongings, including the 30 paintings, which were plundered by the Nazis. Along those taken were the expressionist “Flowers” painted in 1913 by Corinth, most of whose work the Nazis condemned as “degenerate.”
After the war, Belgian authorities failed to establish to whom it belonged and entrusted it to the museum in 1951, where it has since hung.
Museum chief Michel Draguet said it had been easier to find the original owners of artworks in the case of Jewish families living in Belgium, because of the archives and contacts.
“Here, it was impossible even to know if this work is coming from Germany, from another country,” Draguet told Reuters.
The museum, which appealed to the public in 2008 on its website for information on the painting, also launched on Thursday two rooms containing and addressing Nazi-looted art and works taken by Belgium during its colonial period.