Famous Painting Stolen In World War II Returned To Owner’s Family

Sylvie Sulitzer stands with the Renoir painting stolen from her Jewish grandfather by the Nazis in December 1941

Sylvie Sulitzer stands with the Renoir painting stolen from her Jewish grandfather by the Nazis in December 1941

It had been in NY since at least 2005, when it appeared for sale at Sotheby's.

Weinberger put some of his paintings in a bank vault for safekeeping before fleeing from the Nazis in France.

Three-quarters of a century later, Weinberger's last surviving heir, Sylvie Sulitzer, received the work at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NY, the first time she had ever seen it in person.

"I'm very thankful to be able to show my beloved family wherever they are that after all they've been through, there is a justice", Sulitzer said.

"The war was a taboo subject; we never talked about that", said Sulitzer, who owns a delicatessen in the south of France near where she lives in Roquevaire. Among the officials were William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of the FBI's NY office, and Geoffrey S. Berman, the USA attorney in Manhattan, who said before the ceremony that the outcome "brings some measure of justice to the Weinberger family and to Madame Sulitzer".

'It's been three-quarters of a century since it was looted, ' he said of the piece, 'but it's very important to us to bring whatever sense of justice we can'. Much of the pilfered art, including "Two Women in the Garden", was taken to the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, which the Germans had turned into a depository.

A Renoir painting looted by the Nazis during World War II has been returned to its rightful owner, NY federal officials announced Wednesday.

"As far as I can remember", she said, "nobody ever spoke about the war".

"Nobody told me about the painting", Sulitzer said in an interview. She looked at it for a long moment.

This was the first time she was hearing about it, she said.

Sulitzer says the USA government invited her to the restitution ceremony at the museum and that when she said she couldn't afford the plane ticket, it offered to pay for her journey.

"I hope everybody will, one day or another, have the justice as I had", she said.

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Nor would she estimate the current value of the painting.

But she immediately agreed with the attorneys that she wanted to find it, she said.

"When Gen. [Hermann] Goering stole paintings from private collections from different museums around Europe, he needed an expert to verify them", said Sulitzer after the painting was unveiled.

The granddaughter of a Jewish art collector faces saying farewell to a stolen Renoir painting she spent nearly a decade trying to find.

Museum President & CEO Michael S. Glickman welcomed everyone to the Museum located in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. "Certainly over the last five years, this has been an effort to reclaim the painting and reconnect it with Mrs. Sulitzer".

Finally, in 2013, when the painting had reached an auction run by Christie's in New York City, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was alerted by the auction house, and the owner agreed to surrender the stolen work to the authorities. (She says she now owes money to the French and German governments in connection with compensation she previously received.) "I would have loved to keep it", she adds. The disappointed Weinberger passed away in 1977. Sulitzer said he fled the city to avoid being pressed into service by the Nazis for his art expertise. "Of course, it was impossible for him to accept" such an assignment, she said, and he became a maquisard, as rural anti-Nazi resistance fighters were known. From her grandfather's collection, four more Renoirs and a Delacroix remain unaccounted for.

Alfred and Marie Weinberger escaped Nazi-occupied Paris at the onset of World War II, but they couldn't take their paintings with them. It resurfaced in Johannesburg in 1975, was sold in London in 1977 and then appeared for sale in Zurich in 1999. Auction-house executives familiar with the case said it was offered for sale at Christie's in December 1996, when no one bought it, and in June 1997.

Yet she does not plan to hold on to Two Women in a Garden: it is headed for sale at Christie's at a daytime auction on 12 November. It sold for $180,000.

How do art auctions really work?

In 2013, the attorneys helping Sulitzer had a hit on the painting: It popped up for sale at a Christie's auction in New York, Berman said.

Her grandfather had filed a restitution claim after the war in 1947, registering his losses with the government. And Sulitzer made her claim.

Park West Gallery has said it refunded the buyer who purchased the painting from their sale in 2009, once learning of its origin.

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