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‘The Penitent Magdalene’ Returns to Heirs after Being Looted by Nazis

‘The Penitent Magdalene’ Returns to Heirs after Being Looted by Nazis

Monday, 30 January, 2023 - 06:30
Employees of Christie's auctions speak to people on the phones in New York City, US, October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A Paris court ordered Christie's auction house to return a painting stolen by the Nazis to the heirs of its owner, a cousin of writer Marcel Proust.

Occupying Nazi forces seized "The Penitent Magdalene" by Dutch artist Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) from Lionel Hauser, according to Agence France Press (AFP).

Hauser, a relative of Proust who came from a French Jewish family, fled to the south of France after German forces invaded. The painting's whereabouts were largely unknown until 2017, until its owner asked the London-based auction house to sell it. Christie's had previously sold the same work in 2005 for 60,000 pounds ($74,000 at current exchange rates).

This time, Christie's researched the painting's provenance and discovered that it had been part of Hauser's collection -- and was also listed on a record of works plundered in France during the war. It contacted Hauser's heirs and proposed splitting the profits of the sale but the offer was rejected, according to French media reports. The court also ordered Christie's to pay the heirs 10,000 euros ($10,900) and reveal the identity of the painting's current owner and its current whereabouts, as well as its sales record.

The case was the latest in France aimed at restoring artworks looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners. The Nazis are estimated to have plundered some 600,000 artworks in Europe, according to a US congressional report. US and European courts have regularly heard cases opened to restore items to their original owners.

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