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Published On: Wed, Mar 27th, 2019

Manhattan Attorney Announces Action to Recover Ukrainian Painting Looted by Nazis

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture action seeking the return to its rightful owner of a painting looted from a Kyiv museum in Nazi-controlled Ukraine in the closing days of World War II.  The piece, formerly entitled A Family Portrait and currently entitled An Amorous Coupleor alternatively A Loving Glance (the “Painting”), painted by Pierre Louis Goudreaux, a student of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, was allegedly stolen from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv, Ukraine, around 1943.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said:  “Our Office has a long history of righting wrongs, no matter how long ago a crime was committed.  Today’s action is an example of our continued commitment to ensuring that art looted by Nazis more than 75 years ago is returned to its rightful owners.”

German crematory at the Nazi camp of Buchenwald photo/ Jules Rouard – Belgium

FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “The occupying forces during World War II believed they had the right to surround themselves with the spoils of their invasion, to include art work that didn’t belong to them.  The Nazis secreted these works away from the public and over the course of decades many were lost forever.  The FBI New York Art Crime Team works diligently to restore these paintings and artifacts to their rightful owners because the some of the wounds of that dark time can be mended even decades later.”

According to the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:

Before the outbreak of the World War II in the Soviet Union, the Khanenko Museum maintained the Painting under the name A Family Portrait, after the Painting had been willed to the Museum by art collector Vasilii Aleksandrovich Shchavinskii in 1924 upon his death.  The Painting is seen in numerous photographs of the interior of the Khanenko Museum in the 1930s.

As part of the invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, German troops crossed the Dnieper River into Kyiv in August 1941.  To protect its inventory from the invading troops, the Khanenko Museum evacuated some of its artwork eastward into Soviet Russia, but the Painting was not listed in the checklists of the evacuated items.  When the German troops occupied Kyiv beginning in 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Ukraine through an administrative entity called the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (the “RKU”).  The RKU seized numerous pieces from the Khanenko Museum for display in the residences of occupying authorities.  The Painting was not listed in the ledger of such seized pieces.  When Soviet troops began approaching Kyiv to try to retake the city in 1943, the German authorities seized artwork for export to Germany, but the Painting was not listed in the German ledger of the exported artworks.  Kyiv became a military zone in the final days of the war in Ukraine, and retreating German troops looted many remaining valuables.

In July 1944, after the Soviet Union had re-taken Kyiv from Nazi rule, the Committee for Art under the Soviet of Ministers for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic began to review pieces stolen from the Khanenko Museum.  The Committee listed the Painting, under the title An Amorous Couple, as a missing piece when the review was completed in August 1948.

In January 2013, the Painting resurfaced when it was listed on the official website of a New York auction house (the “New York Auction House”).  The provenance accompanying the auction notice stated that the Painting had been held in a private collection in London and then a private collection in Massachusetts.  Further investigation by the FBI established that in December 1993, the Painting was purchased from an auction house in Deerfield, Massachusetts, by a New York art dealer (the “Art Dealer”).  The Art Dealer held the Painting until consigning it to the New York Auction House in January 2013.  The Painting was posted for auction under the alternate title of A Loving Glance.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are seeking forfeiture of the painting so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

Mr. Berman thanked the FBI’s Art Crime Team for their assistance.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel L. Raymond is in charge of the case.

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