After 75 Years, Germany Will Return a Nazi-Looted Old Master Painting to the Uffizi in Florence

The museum’s German-born director Eike Schmidt says the agreement is “a great victory for the whole of Italy.”

Eike Schmidt, who was due to leave the Uffizi in Novemver to become head of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, has abruptly reversed course. Photo courtesy Uffizi Galleries via Twitter.
Eike Schmidt, who was due to leave the Uffizi in Novemver to become head of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, has abruptly reversed course. Photo courtesy Uffizi Galleries via Twitter.

Germany has agreed to return a still-life by a Dutch Old Master that was looted during World War II to the Uffizi in Florence. The breakthrough follows a high-profile campaign by the museum’s outgoing director, Eike Schmidt, who is German. He hailed the decision as “a great victory for the whole of Italy.”

Schmidt argued that Germany had a “moral duty” to return Jan van Huysum’s Vase of Flowers, which is estimated to be worth around €2 million ($2.3 million)This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War II and the horrors of Nazism from healing,” Schmidt said earlier this year. 

The Dutch still-life was taken from a village near Florence 1943 where it had been removed with other works from the collection for safekeeping. In January, Schmidt publicly shamed his homeland for holding onto the work by hanging a framed photograph of the still-life in the Uffizi emblazoned with the words “Stolen!” in multiple languages. Delighted by the news of its imminent return, he told Reuters: “At long last [it] comes home after 75 years.” Schmidt added: “The battle was tough.”

The return of the painting forms a parting gift for the Italian museum from its director, who is due to leave next year to lead the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The painting originally came to the Uffizi’s Palazzi Pitti in Florence in the 19th century after it was bought by the Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany. Evacuated in 1940, the still-life was plundered by retreating German troops in 1943. It was missing for decades until it resurfaced in 1991 in a private collection in Germany.

Efforts to return the painting stalled after its owners, the descendants of a German soldier, demanded €2 million for the work. Lawyers for the defendants claimed that the soldier had not stolen the work, but had bought it for his wife at a market. German authorities also invoked the 30-year statute of limitations, which delayed the painting’s restitution. Schmidt has called for the statute of limitations to be lifted for cases concerning Nazi loot. 

Now, the German government has struck an agreement with Italy over the work. It is unclear if the unnamed family will be compensated, according to the German paper Die Zeit

Although a date for the painting’s return has not yet been set, a statement from Italy’s foreign office says that the country’s foreign minister Enzo Moavero will travel to Florence to see the work being returned by his German counterpart, Heiko Maas.


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