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Painting looted by Nazis returned to rightful owner

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Renoir painting stolen by the Nazis from Paris bank vault returned after more than 70 years.

Sylvie Sulitzer next to the painting Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin
Reuters

A Renoir painting stolen by the Nazis from a Paris bank vault was returned to its rightful owner Wednesday after a more than 70-year odyssey from South Africa to London, Switzerland and New York.

"Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin," painted in 1919 in the last year of French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir's life, is now back in the hands of the granddaughter of the Jewish owner who spent decades trying to get it back, AFP reported.

Sylvie Sulitzer, the last remaining heir of her grandfather Alfred Weinberger, a prominent art collector in pre-war Paris, received the work from US authorities during a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Although Sulitzer knew her grandfather, she had no idea about the missing Renoir until a German law firm, specialists in recovering art looted by the Nazis from Jewish families, contacted her in the early 2010s.

"I'm very thankful to be able to show my beloved family wherever they are that after all they've been through, there is a justice," Sulitzer said.

Four other Renoirs and a Delacroix, which her grandfather also owned, have yet to be recovered, she told AFP.

The Nazis stole the art in December 1941 from the bank vault where Weinberger stored his collection when he fled Paris at the outset of World War II.

After peace returned to Europe, Weinberger spent decades trying to recover his property, registering his claim with French authorities in 1947 and with the Germans in 1958.

US officials said the Renoir first resurfaced at an art sale in Johannesburg in 1975, before finding its way to London, where it was sold again in 1977. It was put up for sale again in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1999.

However, it was only when it was put up for auction by a private collector at Christie's in New York that the auction house called in the FBI. Its previous "owner" eventually agreed to relinquish the picture.

It is thought that up to 100,000 works of art, and millions of books, were stolen from French Jews, or Jews who had fled to France before the Nazi occupation began in 1940.

The Allies found around 60,000 of the missing artworks after the war in Germany and returned them to France.

Two-thirds were returned to their original owners by 1950, according to a French government report seen by AFP earlier this year that criticized French authorities' inefficiency in returning the rest.

In April, a New York court ruled that two Nazi-looted drawings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele must be returned to the heirs of an Austrian Holocaust victim.

“Woman in a Black Pinafore” and “Woman Hiding her Face” should be handed over to the heirs of Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum, an Austrian-Jewish entertainer who died in 1941 in the Dachau concentration camp, Justice Charles Ramos of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled.

In 2016, Vienna's famous Leopold Museum settled a long-running feud over five Nazi-plundered drawings by Schiele with the descendants of the works' Jewish former owner.

The museum at the time agreed to return two of the watercolors - including a self-portrait of Schiele - to the New York-based heiress of Viennese art collector Karl Maylaender who was deported from Austria in 1941.

Also in 2016, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra returned a Nazi-looted painting to the heirs of its original Jewish owner.

The painting by the French neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signa, valued at about $500,000, was returned to relatives of Marcel Koch and auctioned in Paris as Koch did not have any children.

A Nazi police official gave the orchestra the painting, "Port-en-Bessin", in 1940 in exchange for its performances in occupied France.
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