Nazi painting returned to heir of owners

The Raising Of Lazarus, a Renaissance-era painting, was looted by the Nazis and then bought by Hermann Goering, a military leader in Hitler's Germany.
The Raising Of Lazarus, a Renaissance-era painting, was looted by the Nazis and then bought by Hermann Goering, a military leader in Hitler's Germany.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LONDON • An heir of a prominent German banking family has recovered a Renaissance-era painting that was looted by the Nazis and then bought by Hermann Goering, who amassed a collection of more than 1,000 paintings.

Goering, who played a key role in Adolf Hitler's military conquest of Europe in World War II, committed suicide in 1946 after he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials.

The artwork, The Raising Of Lazarus, by an anonymous German artist, was salvaged by the Monuments Men at the end of World War II before entering the Bavarian State Paintings Collection in 1961, where it remained until now.

The Monuments Men were an army unit that also tapped on the expertise of curators and art historians to search for stolen artworks to return them to rightful owners.

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Their work inspired a 2014 movie, also called The Monuments Men. George Clooney directed and also starred in the film.

The heirs of the Lazarus painting did not know it was in the Bavarian collection, but a company that helps families recover looted art noticed several years ago that it was on a list of artworks lost during the war.

The State Paintings Collection has agreed to buy the piece from the heirs.

The work, painted in oils on wood, is thought to have been created between 1530 and 1540 and was part of a collection assembled by James von Bleichroeder, son of a Jewish banker who rose to fame as well-known 1800s politician Otto von Bismarck's financial adviser.

Mr von Bleichroeder died in 1937.

The family suffered persecution and expropriation at the hands of the Nazis and their art collection was seized and sold in May 1938 at auction in Berlin.

Goering bought the painting shortly afterwards from the dealer who had purchased it at auction.

Goering's vast collection, much of which was looted from Jews, was seized by the American military at the end of World War II and stored in Munich.

About 200 of the works, including Lazarus, were later turned over to the regional government of Bavaria.

Nearly 80 years after it was stolen from the family, the painting, valued at about US$250,000 (S$340,000), was returned to Mr Frank Winkel at a ceremony in Munich. He lives in Munich and is the heir of Mr von Bleichroeder's daughter Ellie, who survived incarceration at a concentration camp.

The State Paintings Collection included the painting and its ownership history in a 2004 publication listing artworks acquired by Goering that were in Bavaria's possession.

It was later identified by a company which traced the von Bleichroeder heirs and began helping them to recover their lost art in 2010.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Nazi painting returned to heir of owners'. Print Edition | Subscribe