LONDON, March 13 (JTA) — A German art official has returned a Nazi-looted painting to the British heirs of its original Jewish owner.
The director general of the Bavarian State Collections, who handed back the work Monday, acknowledged that “our behavior in the past was quite wrong.”
“But,” declared Reinhold Baumstark, “we are very pleased to do a little bit of justice now after the injustice of all these years.”
The painting, currently on loan to London’s prestigious Royal Academy, is an 1898 triptych, “The Three Stages of Life,” by Count Leopold von Kalckreuth.
Elizabeth Gotthilf, who died in 1983, abandoned the work when she fled to Britain from Vienna with her husband and children after Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938.
The Bavarian State Collection formally acquired the work in 1942, and it has been held in the collection of the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich.
The painting was returned this week, more than 60 years after it was looted in 1938, to Elizabeth Gotthilf’s descendants, Ernest and Marietta Glanville, who now live in London.
It will be physically returned to the family in September when it has completed its current tour.
The painting was originally given to Gotthilf as a wedding present by her parents — her father was the Austrian art collector Fritz Redlich — and the family, which changed its name to Glanville after arriving in Britain, started the search for it in 1948.
When they finally tracked it down to the collection in Munich in 1971, the German authorities rejected their appeals on the grounds that the deadline for restitution had passed in 1948.
The Commission for Looted Art in Europe took up the case, and found that the painting had been unlawfully acquired from the family. The Bavarian authorities then decided to return the work.
“Today’s joy is tinged with regret that our mother is not alive to witness the restitution of the picture,” said Marietta Glanville.
“It has meant a lot to us — it’s an icon of my childhood. It has great sentimental value” because “it was given to my mother as a wedding present.
“Our hope now is that other victims of Nazi persecutions will have their pictures, their treasures, restored to them.”
It is not known how much the painting is worth at today’s values but the family says it has no intention of selling it.
The painting is the first artwork being exhibited in Britain to become the subject of restitution by the looted-art commission.
Earlier this month, British museums published a list of some 350 art treasures in the permanent collections of 10 national museums that might have been looted by the Nazis.
The National Museum Directors Conference hopes to discover whether the works — which include scores of major paintings, mostly by Impressionist, Post- Impressionist and Modern masters — were looted by the Nazis from their Jewish owners. The artworks, which were acquired since 1933, are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.