After a stay of more than a century in the United States, a baroque landscape painting lost during World War II was returned to Germany on Thursday.
The FBI handed over the work of 18th-century Austrian artist Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer to a German museum representative during a brief ceremony at the German Consulate in Chicago, where the pastoral work depicting the Italian countryside is on display.
Art Recovery International, a company focused on finding and recovering stolen and looted art, tracked down the elusive painting last year after a man in Chicago claimed to have a “stolen or looted painting” that his uncle had brought back to the U.S. after serving . In World War II.
The painting has been missing since 1945 and was first reported stolen from the Bavarian State Painting Collection in Munich, Germany. According to a statement from the art recovery company, it was added to the database of the German Lost Art Foundation in 2012.
“The core of our work at Art Recovery International is the investigation and return of works of art looted by the Nazis and located in public or private collections. “From time to time, we encounter cases like this where Allied soldiers take items home as souvenirs or war souvenirs,” said Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International.
“Being on the winning side doesn’t make it right,” he added.
The identity of the Chicago resident who possessed the painting was not shared. The person initially requested that Marinello be paid for the artwork.
“I explained our policy of not paying for stolen artwork and that the request was inappropriate,” Marinello said.
“We also know that someone tried to sell the painting at the Chicago art market in 2011 and disappeared after the museum made its claim.”
However, with the help of the FBI Art Crimes Squad, attorneys, and the museum, Marinello negotiated the unconditional surrender of the artwork.
According to the museum, the painting titled “Landscape with Italian Characters” will now be reunited with its counterpart, which shares similar motifs and imagery.
Together, the two paintings form a panoramic scene showing shepherds and travelers with their goats, cows, donkeys and sheep at a river crossing.
The pair will be exhibited together at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich for the first time since World War II, according to Bernd Ebert, the museum’s chief curator of Dutch and German baroque paintings.
Getting back a long-lost painting was “actually a very rare moment for us,” Ebert said. “This is exciting.”
Vienna-born artist Lauterer lived from 1700 to 1733.
When war broke out in 1939, many museum collections in Bavaria were evacuated to safe locations in the region, but according to the museum, Lauterer’s painting had been missing since the beginning of the war, suggesting the possibility that the painting had been looted.
The Bavarian State Painting Collections first began searching for the painting between 1965 and 1973, but no clues to its whereabouts emerged until decades later.
Ebert, who flew from Munich to Chicago to collect the painting, would carefully wrap the centuries-old landscape in bubble wrap and take it back home; It will be retouched and restored here after several eventful decades.
Luckily, Ebert said it should fit in his bag.