Reporter returns painting looted in World War Two

The Scotsman, 2 June 2006
Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - A small 16th-century Florentine painting looted from a German museum during World War Two and given to a reporter as a "wedding gift" in 1952 has been returned to its rightful owner.

The portrait of Eleonora of Toledo by Alessandro Allori has been handed back to Berlin's Gemaeldegalerie after veteran BBC foreign correspondent Charles Wheeler asked the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) to find out where it belonged.

"He had been carrying it around with him for years and was very fond with it but had no idea how important it was," Anne Webber, Co-chair of the Commission, told Reuters.

"It was given to him as a wedding gift by a farmer he knew who told him he had got it from a Russian soldier in exchange for two sacks of potatoes to make vodka," she said. "He wasn't married at the time but it made no difference to the farmer."

The non-profit CLAE specialises returning Nazi-looted art and artefacts to their original owners.
Webber contacted galleries in Germany with a description of the oil-on-wood painting that measures 12 cm (4.72 inches) by 16 cm on the chance it might ring a bell.

The Gemaeldegalerie, which holds one of the world's leading collections of European art from the 13th through the 18th centuries, promptly faxed back a photograph they had taken of the painting before putting it into storage in 1939.

Its collection includes masterpieces from such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt.

The gallery had believed that the missing painting had either been taken to Russia after the war or burnt.

"We are delighted to have made possible the identification and return of this lovely painting. This is the fourth of Germany's war losses whose return we have enabled in the last six months," Webber said.

"The gallery were very excited. They had believed the picture had disappeared forever, and suddenly here it was," she added.

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation which covers all Berlin's state museums, said the return had raised hopes that other missing works could be located.

After some cleaning and a little restoration by the gallery, the painting that has travelled the world in Wheeler's luggage, will go on public display.

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