Renoir painting looted by Nazis returned to rightful owner's heir

Esequiel Farfan
Setiembre 14, 2018

The Jewish couple fled to the French Alps and left their paintings - several by Pierre-Auguste Renoir - sequestered in a Paris bank vault. She said she wanted to show her deceased "beloved family, wherever they are" that justice can prevail.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District in NY, said Wednesday's event that it is about more than just a painting.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was 78 and crippled with arthritis when he painted "Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin" in 1919, and during his final months in his home on the French Riviera, an assistant would insert a brush into his deformed fists before he could paint.

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

"The extraordinary journey that this small work of art has made around the world and through time ends today", said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's NY field office, "when we get to return it to Alfred Weinberger's last remaining heir: his granddaughter, Sylvie Sulitzer".

After the war, Weinberger dedicated his life to recovering his precious artworks, and registered claims with the French and German governments.

Before Sulitzer discovered its existence, the painting had traveled out of Nazi hands to private collections in multiple countries, Sweeney said. The Nazis made a regular practice of looting artworks and other items of cultural and financial significance, and in the decades since World War II, efforts have been made to find the objects and return them to their owners if possible, with varying levels of success.

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Sulitzer learned in 2013 that the painting, which had surfaced periodically through the decades at various auctions, was once again up for auction.

After years of investigation involving the FBI and the USA attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, Sulitzer finally laid eyes on the painting Wednesday.

The brief return still stirred strong feelings inside her. In 1975, the stolen Renoir was sold at an art auction in Johannesburg, then, in 1977, in London.

"The extraordinary journey this work of art has made around the globe ends today", said Bill Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's NY field office.

Upon hearing from Sulitzer's lawyer, Christie's withdrew the painting and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The painting is on display at the museum through Sunday and will go back to Sulitzer's possession after that.

She said: "I would have loved to have kept it [the painting]". She wasn't sure for how long, though - she has to pay back some money from the French and German governments she got in connection with the stolen works, since one of them has been returned, and she said she can't afford to and will likely auction off the painting.

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