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Italy's Uffizi Gallery wants Nazi-looted artwork back from Germany

One of Italy's top art galleries has appealed to the German government for help in returning an artwork stol...

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 12:26 PM
Updated: Jan 2, 2019 12:26 PM

One of Italy's top art galleries has appealed to the German government for help in returning an artwork stolen by Nazi troops in 1943.

The chief of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Eike Schmidt, released a video calling for the return of the painting, "Vase of Flowers," by 18th-century Dutch artist Jan van Huysum.

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Until the original is returned, a black and white photo of the artwork with the word "stolen" in Italian, German and English on it will hang in the Uffizi's Pitti Palace, Schmidt said.

"An appeal to Germany for 2019: We hope that this year may finally see the return to the Uffizi Galleries in Florence of the celebrated work of art entitled Vase of Flowers," Schmidt said in a statement released with the video.

The painting is held by a German family that has refused to return it despite requests from Italian authorities, the statement adds. The work only resurfaced in 1991, after the reunification of Germany.

German authorities maintain they are powerless to act in the case because of a statute of limitations that holds that crimes allegedly committed more than 30 years ago cannot be prosecuted, according to Reuters.

"Germany should not apply the statute of limitations to works of art stolen during the war, and it should take measures to ensure that those works are restored to their legitimate owners," Schmidt said.

"This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War II and the horrors of Nazism from healing," said Schmidt, an art historian who is German.

Van Huysum is renowned for his still-life paintings, and "Vase of Flowers" is worth millions of dollars, a Uffizi spokesman said.

The family that legally owns the painting under German law is asking for €500,000 ($573,000), below market rate, the spokesman said.

However, Italian law dictates that the Uffizi cannot buy the painting because the gallery is still its legal owner, he said.

Other artworks looted by the Nazis have been returned to galleries and to the heirs of their original owners in various countries around the world.

A Renoir painting stolen by the Nazis was returned in September to its rightful owner in the United States.

"Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin," painted in 1919, was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 from a bank vault in Paris, federal prosecutors and the FBI in New York said in a news release.

It was stolen from Alfred Weinberger, a prominent art collector in prewar Paris, and it was returned to his last remaining heir, his granddaughter Sylvie Sulitzer, at a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

While there have been other success stories, many more looted works of art have not yet been returned.

In 2012, a collection of 1,400 works of art was discovered in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a collector who dealt in artworks for the Nazis.

Experts believe many of the discovered paintings, drawings and sculptures -- including works by Monet, Picasso and Rodin -- were looted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors or dealers.

The Louvre Museum in Paris has dedicated a permanent exhibit to looted works of art recovered from Germany. The Nazis had seized the pieces during their occupation of France.

The museum is displaying the 31 artworks in an attempt to reunite them with the descendants of their rightful owners.

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