Nazi-Looted Van Goghs Bring Ruin Upon Greek Woman

Doreta Peppas with a van Gogh painting recovered by her father during a  Greek resistance raid of a Nazi train.

Doreta Peppas with an alleged Vincent van Gogh painting recovered by her father during a Greek resistance raid of a Nazi train.
Photo via Greek Reporter.

When Doreta Peppas discovered a box of Vincent van Gogh paintings among her late father’s belongings in 2003, she thought she was rich. In the over 10 years since, she’s spent her life’s savings trying to authenticate the artworks, which her father, a Greek resistance fighter, recovered from the Nazis during World War Two.

According to the Greek Reporter, Doreta Peppas’s father Meletis Peppas conducted a raid on a Nazi train in Greece in October of 1944. Though his squad was looking for ammunition, what they found was a cache of Impressionist art, labeled degenerate by Hitler’s regime, likely on its way to be sold to bolster the fuhrer’s war chest.

The train carried oil paintings and a sketchbook by Van Gogh, as well as a photograph of the artist as a teen, and a nude painting by Paul Cézanne. Altogether, the stash is estimated to be worth $100 million. Peppas told the Greek Reporter that her father, a captain of the resistance, was “an educated man, and an amateur art buff” who “decided to keep the paintings for himself.”

Following the war, Meletis Peppas was targeted by the government due to his Communist leanings, and spent time in prison. He eventually left his family in order to protect them from the government, all the while managing to keep his priceless art stash a secret. The elder Peppas died in 1973, and for decades the artworks that his daughter claims he took from the Nazis were forgotten.

When Doreta Peppas uncovered the work in November 2003, she immediately turned to experts for X-rays, lab tests, and other means of authentication. Two specialists have identified the sketchbook as dating to Van Gogh’s studies at the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. A facial recognition expert confirmed the photo of an adolescent Van Gogh as a match to known photographs of the artist as an adult.

A stamp on the back of a Van Gogh portrait of a man smoking a pipe, thought to be one of a series of paintings of the artist’s doctor, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, has been authenticated as an official Nazi mark by the Bundesarchiv in Germany. Much of the art confiscated by the Nazis was catalogued at the Louvre in Paris before being sold to private collectors.

Despite the works’ ties to the Nazis, there are no records regarding their original owners. “I went to great lengths to find out who originally owned the paintings,” said Doreta Peppas. “I even went to Interpol.”

According to Greek law the works are hers, but potential buyers—whether collectors, auction houses, or institutions—remain skeptical. Citing the artworks’ Nazi provenance as a reason for the lack of interest, she claims that institutions have doubted the results of the authentication research for which she has paid so much.

Among the suspicious institutions is Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. “They said they would authenticate it, but the contract they sent me stated they had the right to keep it forever, for free,” Peppas said. Greek dealers and the Louvre have also turned away the works, leaving her with no way to recoup the $150,000 she says she has spent verifying the art’s origins.

“These galleries and auction houses are nothing less than cartels, and word has gone around that my pieces must not be sold,” Peppas complains. “I have been the subject of terrible bullies in the art world.”

At this time it is unclear whether or not this Doreta Peppas—whose last name is alternately spelled “Peppas” and “Peppa” throughout the Greek Reporter article—is the same woman who, in 2007, called upon Greece’s Culture Ministry to grant access to the Temple of Olympian Zeus for the small group of Athenians who continue to worship the ancient Greek deity Zeus.