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Lifestyle

March 20, 2013

American gets back art taken by Nazis

PARIS (AP) — Tom Selldorff was 6 years old when he saw his grandfather’s prized art collection for the last time in 1930s Vienna, before it fell into Nazi hands.

Now, he’s 84 — and in a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, the American was finally 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 France’s ongoing 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.

“I’m extremely grateful and very moved,” said Selldorff, who flew in from Boston for the event at France’s Culture Ministry, where the oil paintings were on temporary display. “These paintings were in this fog of war. The restitution... was not easy. It took a long time.”

The artworks were stolen or sold under duress some seven decades ago as Jewish industrialist and art collector Richard Neumann — Selldorff’s grandfather — and his family fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The collection — whose original size is unknown — was his ticket out, though he sold it for a fraction of its value. The route the artworks took to show up in French museums is unclear, making their way to places like the Museum of Modern Art of Saint-Etienne, the Agen Fine Arts Museum, the Tours Fine Art Museum, and the Louvre.

“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, this time with my grandmother at one point on foot over the Pyrenees, to Spain, and then eventually to Cuba,” Selldorff said.

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