News and Press Releases

U.S. Recovers Porcelain Centerpiece from “Swan Service” Stolen from a German Castle During World War II

December 23, 2010

Settlement With Toledo Museum of Art Provides For The Return of The “Nereid Sweetmeat Stand” to The Royal Family That Loaned The Masterpiece to a German Museum

The United States has entered into a settlement agreement with the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio that provides for the return of the famed Swan Service collection’s centerpiece to a royal family in Germany. During the Second World War, while on loan to the Dresden Museum from the family of the former prime minister of Saxony, the “Nereid Sweetmeat Stand” was stolen from a castle where it was hidden. The porcelain piece, valued at approximately 800,000 Euros ($1,078,603 in United States currency), was recently discovered to be located at the Toledo Museum of Art, which has agreed to return it to the heirs of the former prime minister.

The settlement was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York.

In 1737, Count Heinrich von Bruehl, the prime minister of Saxony and the founding patron of the Meissen porcelain factory, ordered the factory’s chief modeler to create a royal dinner service. The result, four years in the making, was the Swan Service – a service for 100 comprising 2,200 pieces. The Nereid Sweetmeat Stand, part of the centerpiece arrangement, is considered one of the masterpieces of the collection.

In August 1920, the Dresden Museum received 25 pieces from the Swan Service, including the Nereid stand, on permanent loan from the von Bruehl family. These pieces, and 12 additional pieces from the Swan Service donated to the museum after 1920, were hidden at the Reichstaedt castle in Germany during the Second World War. At the conclusion of the war, the boxes were found broken open, with the Nereid stand and several other pieces missing.

In 1955, the Stand was purchased from a European art dealer, subsequently imported into the United States, and sold to the Toledo Museum of Art. Recently, the Stand was examined by staff from the Toledo Museum of Art, the Dresden Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Special Agents from ICE and determined to be the stolen Nereid Sweetmeat Stand.

United States Attorney Lynch stated, “The United States is committed to repatriating stolen art to its rightful owners. There is no lawful market for plundered works of art.”

“ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments, art dealers, museums, and other organizations to recover stolen works of fine art and antiquities,” said ICE Special Agent in Charge Hayes. “These are precisely the types of investigations that HSI’s Cultural Property Art and Antiquities Unit in New York City was established to identify and investigate.”

The government’s case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Duncan Levin.

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