Painting stolen by Nazis finally returned to heirs of Jewish art gallery

February 10, 2017

Originally appeared in the New York Post

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A 17th century oil painting that was stolen by the Nazis more than 80 years ago was finally returned Wednesday to the heirs of the Jewish art gallery owner who once owned it.

Representatives of Max Stern — a renowned art dealer who fled Germany after being persecuted and forced to liquidate his entire gallery in 1936 — met with FBI agents at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan for the reunion ceremony, held 30 years after his death.

The painting, titled “Young Man As Bacchus,” was done by a Dutch master named Jas Frans Verzijl, according to the Associated Press.

It is the 16th piece of Stern’s old collection that has been returned to his heirs since investigators from the Department of Financial Services first began searching for his artwork in the late 1990s.

The ceremony on Wednesday was coordinated by representatives from the Max Stern Foundation, which oversees his estate.

Michael McGarrity, head of the FBI’s New York field office, told the AP that after surviving “several generations of exile,” the painting was seized by agents at a New York City art fair in 2015. Italian art dealers, who didn’t know it was stolen, had unknowingly tried to sell it.

A six-person team at the DFS’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office — which is responsible for tracking down items raided by the Nazis — has been searching for Stern’s artwork.

After his death in 1987, he left behind his ownership of the recovered pieces to his foundation and its beneficiaries, which include Concordia University and McGill University in Canada and Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

DFS superintendent Maria Vullo called the painting’s return on Wednesday “a small symbol of justice to those who suffered in the unspeakable horrors of the holocaust.”

The last paintings that were recovered and given back to Stern’s estate were also works by Dutch masters — “Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea” by Jan Porcellis and “Landscape With Goats” by Willem Buytewech the Younger, according to The Art Newspaper.

They were both returned in December after being found at auction houses in Germany.

Experts estimate that around 400 pieces were taken from Stern by the Nazis and sold at the Lempertz auction house in Cologne — at a fraction of the cost. He fled to London roughly two years later and eventually moved to Canada, where he remained until his death.

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