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New York, NY
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the return to its rightful owner of a painting looted by the Nazis during World War II. The piece, A Scholar Sharpening His Quill, painted in 1639 by Salomon Koninck (the “Painting”), was stolen from the children and heirs of renowned Jewish art collector Adolphe Schloss. Schloss was a prominent Jewish art collector in Paris whose large collection of Old Master paintings (the “Schloss Collection”) was regarded as among the most significant private collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings assembled in prewar France.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said: “The campaign of cultural plunder that the Nazis directed against millions of innocent Jews was sadistic and unjust. That is why restitution in this case is more than returning a material good, but restoring a physical part of lost heritage. After nearly 80 years of being lost, this painting has been found and we are returning it to the Schloss family.”
During World War II, the Nazis created a division known as the Einsatzstab Reichleiter Rosenberg (the “ERR”) in order to “study” Jewish life and culture as part of the Nazis’ propagandist mission against the Jews. Principally, the ERR confiscated artworks and other cultural holdings of “the enemies of the Reich” on a massive scale, and registered and identified those artworks – even photographing them – thereby leaving behind a detailed record of the works that they stole. ERR records and photographs of art and cultural artifacts looted by the Nazis are digitized and available in an online database created by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and this database includes a photograph of the Painting taken by the ERR during World War II.
Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Schloss heirs moved the Schloss Collection from Paris to Chateau de Chambon, a township in Southern France, in an attempt to protect the collection from looting by the Nazis. Due to its value and significance, the ERR made substantial efforts to locate and loot the Schloss Collection. In 1943, the Schloss Collection was ultimately looted by the ERR from its holding place in Chateau de Chambon. The Nazis took 262 paintings from the Schloss Collection, including the Painting, and transported them to a depot located at the Jeu de Paume, a prewar museum in Paris that was operated by the ERR during the war. Ultimately, the Painting was selected by the Nazis to be transported to the the “Führerbau,” Hitler’s headquarters in Munich, from where it and many other paintings disappeared in the aftermath of the war.
The Painting resurfaced in November 2017, when a Chilean private collector (the “Consignor”) attempted to sell the painting through a New York-based auction house. When the Painting arrived in New York from Chile, it was determined that it was the same Painting that came from the Schloss collection and had been looted by the Nazis. When the Consignor was informed of this, the Consignor stated that her father had purchased the Painting from Walter Andreas Hofer in Munich in 1952. Hofer was Hermann Göring’s chief purchasing agent and as such was a key player in the confiscation and looting of Jewish art collections during the Nazi era. In 1950, after being tried in absentia by a French military tribunal for his role in art plundering during World War II, Hofer was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The United States Attorney’s office filed a complaint seeking civil forfeiture of the painting on October 19, 2018, and Judge George B. Daniels entered a judgment of forfeiture on March 11, 2019. The United States today returns the painting to the Schloss heirs, and welcomes two members of the family to New York to accept the painting.
Mr. Berman thanked the FBI’s Art Crime Team for their assistance.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thane Rehn is in charge of the case.