Two important works by Polish impressionist painter Julian Falat that were looted from the Polish National Museum in Warsaw by Nazis in 1944 and then disappeared for over six decades are on their way back to Poland. Representatives from U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office officially returned the paintings to the President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski in a ceremony at the Polish Consulate in New York City. At the same ceremony, President Komorowski presented the Presidential Medal to ICE Special Agent Lennis Barrois and retired Special Agent Bonnie Goldblatt in gratitude for their efforts in investigating the theft.
In August of 1944, German SS Obersturmbannführer and “Reichsbeauftragter für die Mode” (Reich Agent For Fashion) Benno von Arent took charge of the National Museum in Warsaw and looted the most valuable pieces, including “The Hunt in Nieśwież” and “Before the Hunt in Rytwiany,” two oil-on-panel winter scenes by Julian Falat (1853-1929), a top Polish impressionist painter known for his landscapes. These pieces are considered the finest examples of his hunt-themed work.
“Those paintings are two magnificent and very important pieces of art,” said Bogdan Zdrojewski, minister of culture and national heritage, Republic of Poland. “If you think about all the Falat paintings, these two are definitely the most interesting and most valuable ones.”
The paintings first came to light in New York City in 2006. Polish authorities found out in 2006 that these two masterpieces had been put up for sale at two different New York auction houses. They notified ICE and INTERPOL who conducted an investigation into their history. According to the ICE statement, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed a civil complaint in Manhattan federal court in December of 2010 asking that the paintings be forfeited on the grounds that they constituted stolen property illegally imported into the United States.
It’s unclear what happened between 2006 and 2010, nor do we know who put the paintings up for auction in 2006 or where they may have been before that. If any arrests have been made or criminal complaints filed, they haven’t been announced.
Despite the delay and many missing pieces of this puzzle, Poland’s Ministry of Culture is delighted to have the Falats back. Approximately 60,000 works of art that disappeared from Polish collections during World War II are still missing.
“The two World Wars that we experienced and numerous uprisings … left Poland’s national heritage really impoverished,” said Bogdan Zdrojewski, Poland’s culture minister. “That is why every object that returns to our country has huge value that is both spiritual and emotional.”