American gets back art taken by Nazis during WWII
American Thomas Selldorff, speaks during a ceremony at the Culture Ministry in Paris, France, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, to return seven paintings taken from their Jewish owners during World War II, as part of ongoing efforts to give back hundreds of looted artworks that still hang in the Louvre and other French museums. Selldorff reclaimed six German and Italian paintings that his grandfather, Richard Neumann, was forced to sell during World War II to flee Nazi occupation, and one other painting was returned to other recipients. In the background painting left, Sebastiano Ricci, (Belluno, 1659 - Venice, 1734), Abraham and the three angels, painting right, Gaspare Diziani(Belluno, 1689 - Venice, 1767), Allegory of Venice. Sign in front reads: ceremony of return of seven paintings spoils from the Nazi regime. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
PARIS (AP) — Tom Selldorff was 6 years old when he saw his grandfather's prized art collection for the last time in 1930s Vienna, before it fell into Nazi hands.
Now, he's 84 — and in a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, the American was finally given back a piece of his late grandfather's memory: France has returned six of his stolen family masterpieces.
The restitution of the works — including paintings by Alessandro Longhi and Sebastiano Ricci — is part of France's ongoing effort to return hundreds of looted artworks that Jewish owners lost during the war that still hang in the Louvre and other museums. The move ends years of struggle for Selldorff, whose claims were validated by the French government last year after years of researching the fates of the works.
"I'm extremely grateful and very moved," said Selldorff, who flew in from Boston for the event at France's Culture Ministry, where the oil paintings were on temporary display. "These paintings were in this fog of war. The restitution... was not easy. It took a long time."
American Thomas Selldorff, left, and Austrian art historian, Sophie Lillie, who helped him to identify the painting, pose for the media during a ceremony at the Culture Ministry in Paris, France, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, to return seven paintings taken from their Jewish owners during World War II, as part of ongoing efforts to give back hundreds of looted artworks that still hang in the Louvre and other French museums. Selldorff reclaimed six German and Italian paintings that his grandfather, Richard Neumann, was forced to sell during World War II to flee Nazi occupation, and another painting was returned to other recipients. Painting in the background, Alessandro Longhi(Venice, 1733 - Venice, 1813), Portrait of Bartolemeo Ferracina. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
The artworks were stolen or sold under duress some seven decades ago as Jewish industrialist and art collector Richard Neumann — Selldorff's grandfather — and his family fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The collection — whose original size is unknown — was his ticket out, though he sold it for a fraction of its value. The route the artworks took to show up in French museums is unclear, making their way to places like the Museum of Modern Art of Saint-Etienne, the Agen Fine Arts Museum, the Tours Fine Art Museum, and the Louvre.
"After losing most of his family assets and a good part of his collection to the Nazis in Austria in 1938, he came to Paris for several years and then had to flee again, this time with my grandmother at one point on foot over the Pyrenees, to Spain, and then eventually to Cuba," Selldorff said.
The paintings, meanwhile, stayed behind — all six destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria, according to a catalog for the planned museum.