Archive for April 2nd, 2021

Poussin looted by Nazis returned to heirs

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

A large-scale painting by Nicolas Poussin that was looted by the Nazis during World War II has been returned to its legal owners. Lot with His Two Daughters Serving Him a Drink was found in Padua, northeastern Italy, by the Carabinieri Art Squad.

Before the war, the 4×5-foot painting belonged to Strasbourg industrialist René Bloch, scion of an old Alsatian Jewish family who had lived for five generations in Alsace when it was part of France. The remained loyal to France even when Alsace-Lorraine was ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War and by 1938 René feared that Germany’s ambitions, which had already swallowed Austria in March, would turn to Alsace. He asked a cousin in Poitiers to take in his large collection of decorative arts, including all his furniture. He fled to Brittany in 1939 and made it alive to the United States, only to pass away in 1942.

In late January, 1944, the Nazi occupiers swept through Poitiers, arresting and deporting 481 Jews to the death camps. René Bloch’s cousin was among them. Nazi troops then looted the properties of the deported Jews. The Poussin disappeared between February and August.

As soon as the war was over, René Bloch’s heirs began searching for the objects stolen from their house, but to no avail. It was put on France’s list of Nazi-looted artworks (published in numerous volumes and supplements between 1947 and 1949). A photograph of Lot with His Two Daughters appeared in Volume 2 of the publication. Neither hide nor hair of it was seen in public for 80 years.

It emerged again in 2017 when it was bought from France by an Italian antiques dealer. It was exhibited in Belgium at that time, and then again in 2019 at TEFAF Maastricht, the most important art and antiques fair in the world. It was there that a Dutch art historian, now resident in Italy, recognized it from the old photograph as the Poussin looted from Poitiers in 1944. The legal heirs of the painting, Block’s 98-year-old daughter who lives in Switzerland and a 65-year-old American man, filed a complaint in Italy last year, triggering a Carabinieri investigation into the ownership history of the painting. They searched the home of another Italian antiques dealer and confiscated the painting as stolen goods.

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