Renoir painting stolen by Nazis returned to rightful owner

Lawrence Kim
September 13, 2018

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

"Lovely painting", was Sylvie Sulitzer's reaction upon first seeing Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Two Women in a Garden", a 1919 painting owned by her grandfather and stolen by Nazis.

The reunion, though, will probably be short-lived.

After the war, Sulitzer said Weinberger had a chance to declare different items of his that were stolen during the war, including jewelry and paintings.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District in NY, said Wednesday's event that it is about more than just a painting. Sulitzer said he fled the city to avoid being pressed into service by the Nazis for his art expertise.

"Deux Femmes" belonged to a prominent collector in pre-war Paris, Alfred Weinberger, authorities said, but was stolen by the Nazis from a bank vault in Paris in 1941.

Ending a long odyssey, a Nazi-looted painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was officially returned today (12 September) in NY to the sole surviving heir of the Jewish art collector from whom it was stolen. Then, in 2010, Weinberger's granddaughter, Sylvie Sulitzer, with German attorneys, set out to recover the missing 1919 Renoir.

He put some of his paintings in a bank vault before fleeing the Nazis, who took possession of the works in December 1941. She had no idea of the paintings' existence, Sulitzer said, since they weren't discussed in her family. "We never talked about the war at home".

After being moved around between Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses in London, Zurich and eventually landing in NY, the piece was last sold for $390,000 in 2009 by Park West Gallery, which bought it at auction for $180,000 in 2005.

The brief return still stirred strong feelings inside her.

U.S. officials said the Renoir first resurfaced at an art sale in Johannesburg in 1975, before finding its way to London, where it was sold again in 1977.

One was "Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin", one of the last paintings Renoir made before he died in 1919, when his rheumatoid arthritis was so severe he had to tie the paintbrush to his hand to grip it.

"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".

The owner of the piece voluntarily gave it up to be returned to Sulitzer, officials said.

However, as Madame Sulitzer has already been compensated by the French and German governments for her family's original loss she has admitted she will nearly certainly have to sell the work.

She wished other families looking for their own lost works to be as lucky as she has been.

Despite that, she said, she was thrilled to have it back, saying it was important for the memory of her family, and she thought her grandfather would consider it justice.

Berman said, "I'd rather not speculate on the worth of the painting".

The work is scheduled to remain on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which has previously presided over such handovers of looted art, through Sunday (16 September).

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

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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