The last time Tom Selldorff saw his grandfather’s prized art collection, he was 6 years old in 1930s Vienna, before it fell into Nazi hands.
Now, he’s 84 years old — and in a restitution ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, Selldorff has finally been given back a piece of his late grandfather’s memory: France has returned six of his stolen family masterpieces. The restitution of the works — including paintings by Alessandro Longhi and Sebastiano Ricci — is part of the ongoing French effort to return hundreds of looted artworks that Jewish owners lost during the war that still hang in the Louvre and other museums. The move ends years of struggle for Selldorff, whose claims were validated by the French government last year after years of researching the fates of the works.
The artworks were stolen or sold under duress up to seven decades ago as Jewish industrialist and art collector Richard Neumann — and his family — fled Nazi-occupied Europe. It is not clear exactly to whom Neumann sold them, and the route they took to show up in French museums is unclear. They found places at the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art of Saint- Etienne, the Agen Fine Arts Museum and the Tours Fine Art Museum.
“After losing most of his family assets and a good part of his collection to the Nazis in Austria in 1938, he came to Paris for several years and then had to flee again, to Spain and then eventually to Cuba,” he said. Meanwhile, the paintings stayed behind — all six destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria.
At the end of the war, with Hitler dead and European cities rebuilding, artworks were left “unclaimed” and many thousands that were thought to have been French-owned found their ways into the country’s top museums.