Netherlands returns Brueghel painting to Canada

17th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Netherlands on Wednesday returned a long-missing work by Jan Brueghel the Younger to a Canadian university, which is the beneficiary of its previous owner, a Jewish art dealer, the school announced.

The oil on copper painting called "Allegory of Earth and Water" depicts a picnic lunch with brightness and details typical of the Flemish painter's works.

It was owned by Jewish art dealer Max Stern whose collection was bequeathed to Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, following his death in Paris in 1987.

The painting, which was until recently on display at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, was returned to Concordia officials at a ceremony on Wednesday in The Hague.

Threatened by the Nazis, Stern was forced in December 1937 to close his gallery in Dusseldorf, inherited from his father, and fled to London and then Canada after being coerced to abandon or sell some 400 paintings, sold cheaply by the Gestapo.

The painting is the eighth in Stern's original collection to be returned to the beneficiaries, but "the first delivered by a European government," said Clarence Epstein, director of the restoration project of the works of Max Stern at Concordia University.

"The Dutch government follows a rigorous procedure, probably the most noble of any country as regards to plundered artworks," Epstein said.

"Hundreds of artworks belonging to the Stern family were pillaged," said Judith Woodsworth, president of Concordia University.

"It is our hope that we will be able to recover many of the hundreds of works that were looted from the collection of Dr. Stern -- notably those currently hanging in other European museums," she added.

About 10 percent of artworks from the collection has been located, but their owners have resisted the Stern foundation's efforts to recover them, said Epstein.

Most of the paintings are still in Germany, where existing laws do not address restitution, but which are expected to change soon.

Lost under mysterious circumstances during the World War II after being looted by the Nazis, Brueghel's "Allegory of Earth and Water" was later found in the hands of a Dutch art dealer, Jan Dik Jr., who acted as a Nazi middleman.

Dik resold it to a museum in Hamburg before it was finally recovered by the allies and handed over to the Netherlands after the war.

It will be placed on exhibition next month at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Works by Jan Bruegel the Younger, who lived from 1601-1678, shine in the collections of the Hermitage in Russia and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Prized by collectors, Brueghel's works have sold at auction in recent years for several million dollars.

© 2010 AFP

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