CHICAGO – After a stopover in the United States that lasted more than a century, a Baroque landscape painting that was lost during World War II was returned to Germany on Thursday.
The FBI handed over 18th-century Austrian artist Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer’s artwork to a German museum representative in a brief ceremony at the German consulate in Chicago, where the pastoral work depicting an Italian landscape was on display.
Art Recovery International, a company focused on finding and recovering stolen and looted art, tracked down the elusive painting after a person came forward in Chicago last year claiming to have a “stolen or looted painting.” that her uncle had brought back to the USA after his military service in World War II.
The painting has been missing since 1945 and was first reported as theft from the Bavarian State Painting Collections in Munich. According to a statement from the art rescue company, it was added to the database of the German Center for Losses of Cultural Property in 2012.
“The core of our work at Art Recovery International is the research and return of works of art looted by Nazis and discovered in public or private collections. “Occasionally we come across cases like this where Allied soldiers took items home as souvenirs or as war trophies,” 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 owned the painting has not been revealed. The person initially demanded payment from Marinello for the artwork.
“I explained our policy of not paying for stolen artwork and that the request was unreasonable,” Marinello said.
“We also know that someone tried to sell the painting on the Chicago art market in 2011 and disappeared when the museum claimed it.”
But with the help of the FBI Art Crimes Team, lawyers and the museum, Marinello negotiated an unconditional release of the artwork.
According to the museum, the painting, titled “Landscape with an Italian Character,” will now be reunited with its counterpart, which features similar motifs and imagery.
The two paintings together form a panoramic scene with shepherds and travelers with their goats, cows, donkeys and sheep at a river ford.
According to Bernd Ebert, the museum’s chief curator of Dutch and German Baroque painting, the pair will soon be exhibited together at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich for the first time since World War II.
Finding a long-lost painting “is actually a very rare moment for us,” Ebert said. “It is exciting.”
The Vienna-born artist Lauterer lived from 1700 to 1733.
When war broke out in 1939, many Bavarian museum collections were evacuated to safe locations in the region, but the Lauterer painting had been missing since the start of the war, suggesting the possibility of looting, according to the museum.
The Bavarian State Painting Collections began searching for the painting between 1965 and 1973, but clues to its whereabouts were only found decades later.
Ebert, who flew from Munich to Chicago to pick up the painting, will carefully wrap the century-old landscape in bubble wrap to take it home, where it will be touched up and restored after several eventful decades.
Luckily, Ebert said, it should fit in his suitcase.