Germany to return stolen Dutch painting to the Uffizi Gallery

The descendants of a Nazi soldier are to return a €2 million (£1.8 million) painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Germany announced the result of the secret deal this week, which will see the painting handed back almost 75 years since it was looted.

Eike Schmidt, the German director of the Gallerie degli Uffizi, said the deal is “a great victory for the whole of Italy.”

Vase of Flowers is a small oil painting by the Dutch artist Jan van Huysum (1682-1749). Since its purchase by Leopoldo II in 1842, the painting had been part of the Pitti Palace collection in Florence. But during the outbreak of the Second World War, German soldiers stole the artwork as they retreated from the Allied landings at Anzio and the liberation of Rome.

Germany has a moral duty to return this painting to our museum. This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War II and the horrors of Nazism from healing,” Schmidt commented.

The painting resurfaced in 1991 in the possession of the soldier’s descendants and immediately sparked the attention of the Uffizi.

Yet initial attempts to return the painting failed. A 30-year statute of limitation on alleged crimes in Germany prevented any legal proceeding from moving forward. The family had also reportedly demanded up to €2 million (£1.8 million) in compensation, which the Uffizi refused.

On New Year’s Day this year, Schmidt attracted unprecedented attention to the case by staging a controversial gallery intervention. A black and white scale print of the still life, with “Stolen!” written in multiple languages over the picture, was displayed in the museum.

Schmidt disclosed that several “intermediaries” had wanted to sell the painting and an “outrageous offer” in 2018 prompted the Florence prosecutor to open an investigation.

Soon after, German authorities decided that the painting should be returned. Allegedly the soldier had not acted under Nazi persecution commands and simply stole the painting for himself. As a result, he did not have the right to bequeath the piece.

German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, and his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero will shortly travel to Florence to hand the still life back to the Uffizi.

Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the following statement; “Thanks to the strong cooperation between Ministers Maas and Moavero, the still life, one of the Dutch master’s most important masterpieces, will be hung back in the place Leopoldo II of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany originally assigned to it nearly two centuries ago.”

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