300-year-old painting stolen by an American soldier during World War II returned to German museum

by Ryan Lee
Art Repatriation

A 300-year-old painting, which had been missing since World War II and found its way to the United States, has finally been returned to Germany. The FBI orchestrated the return of this valuable artwork by 18th-century Austrian artist Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer in a ceremony held at the German Consulate in Chicago. The painting, a baroque landscape depicting an Italian countryside, had been on display in Chicago.

The diligent efforts of Art Recovery International, a company specializing in locating and recovering stolen and looted art, played a crucial role in the painting’s recovery. The breakthrough came when an individual in Chicago claimed to possess a “stolen or looted painting” brought to the U.S. by their uncle, a World War II veteran. The painting had been missing since 1945 and was initially reported stolen from the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich, Germany. It was cataloged in the German Lost Art Foundation’s database in 2012, according to Art Recovery International.

Christopher Marinello, the founder of Art Recovery International, explained the organization’s mission of researching and restituting artworks looted by Nazis and discovered in various collections. This particular case highlighted instances where allied soldiers had taken objects as souvenirs or war trophies. Marinello emphasized that being on the winning side did not justify such actions.

The identity of the Chicago resident who possessed the painting remained undisclosed, but it was reported that they initially requested payment for the artwork. Marinello clarified that their policy prohibited payment for stolen art, deeming the request inappropriate. Furthermore, there had been an attempt to sell the painting in the Chicago art market in 2011, but the seller disappeared when the museum claimed ownership.

With the collaborative efforts of the FBI Art Crime Team, legal experts, and the museum, Marinello successfully negotiated the unconditional surrender of the artwork. The painting, titled “Landscape of Italian Character,” will be reunited with its counterpart, which shares similar themes and imagery, forming a panoramic scene featuring shepherds, travelers, and various animals at a river ford. These two paintings, separated since World War II, will be displayed together at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, as confirmed by Bernd Ebert, the museum’s chief curator of Dutch and German baroque paintings.

The artist, Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer, who was born in Vienna and lived from 1700 to 1733, left behind a remarkable legacy. During the outbreak of World War II in 1939, many Bavarian museum collections were moved to safer locations, but the Lauterer painting went missing early in the war, raising suspicions of looting.

The Bavarian State Painting Collections had initiated a search for the painting between 1965 and 1973, but no leads emerged until many decades later. Bernd Ebert, who personally traveled from Munich to Chicago to retrieve the painting, will take great care in packaging the centuries-old artwork for its journey back home, where it will undergo restoration after its eventful journey. Fortunately, Ebert noted that the painting should fit neatly into his suitcase.

This return of a long-lost artwork represents a rare and exciting moment for the museum, marking the culmination of extensive efforts to recover this valuable piece of cultural heritage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Art Repatriation

What is the significance of the returned painting by Johann Lauterer?

The returned painting by Johann Lauterer is of great historical and cultural significance. It was stolen during World War II and has been missing for nearly eight decades. Its return represents a recovery of lost art and a restoration of cultural heritage.

How was the painting located after being missing for so long?

The painting’s recovery was made possible through the efforts of Art Recovery International, a company specializing in finding stolen and looted art. A person in Chicago came forward with information about the painting, which had been in their possession. This led to a collaborative effort with the FBI and legal experts to facilitate its return.

Why was the painting in the United States for such a long time?

The painting had been taken to the United States by an American soldier who served in World War II. It was likely brought back as a souvenir or war trophy. Over the years, it changed hands, and there was an attempt to sell it in the Chicago art market in 2011.

What will happen to the painting now that it’s been returned to Germany?

The painting, titled “Landscape of Italian Character,” will be reunited with its counterpart in Germany. Together, they form a panoramic scene featuring shepherds, travelers, and animals at a river ford. Both paintings will be displayed at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Additionally, the returned artwork will undergo restoration to preserve its historical value.

Who is Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer, the artist behind the painting?

Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer was an 18th-century Austrian artist born in Vienna. He lived from 1700 to 1733 and left a notable legacy in the field of art. His painting, “Landscape of Italian Character,” is a testament to his talent and artistic contribution.

What is the significance of this return in the context of art repatriation?

This return is a noteworthy example of art repatriation, where stolen or looted artworks are returned to their rightful owners or home countries. It highlights the importance of preserving cultural heritage and rectifying the injustices of war-related looting, even many decades later.

More about Art Repatriation

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ArtLover87 October 20, 2023 - 3:40 pm

amazing story bout that stolen paintin, glad it’s bak in germany!

MuseumGoer123 October 20, 2023 - 4:19 pm

i luv museums, can’t wait 2 see dat paintin in Munich!

CuriousGeorge October 20, 2023 - 9:25 pm

who is Johann Lauterer, artist sounds interesting?

HistoryBuff55 October 20, 2023 - 9:58 pm

war time looting srsly bad, glad FBI helped, painting shud b in museum!

ArtHunter77 October 21, 2023 - 4:41 am

Art Recovery Int’l doin gr8 work findin lost art, important stuff!


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