Nazi-Looted Artwork Returns To Poland

By on February 27, 2014
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Thanks to the joint efforts of Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and National Heritage a long-lost painting from the pre-war collection of the National Museum in Warsaw will return to Poland. The work of a well-known German artist Johann Conrad Seekatz titled “St. Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandake” was handed over by the US officials to Poland’s Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski on February 6.

In photo above: From the right: Ambassador of Poland to the U.S. Ryszard Schnepf, Chief of Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit, Southern Division District of New York, Sharon Cohen Levin, Poland’s Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski, and U.S. ICE/HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. In the center, the restored painting “St. Philip baptizing the servant of Queen Kandaki” by Johann Conrad Seekatz. Photo: Stanisław Pelc, Consulate General of Poland in New York

The handover ceremony at the Consulate General in NY was attended by Poland’s Ambassador to the US Ryszard Schnepf and Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, as well as New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York, representing US authorities.

“I am very happy that another painting that was registered as a Polish wartime loss comes back to Poland today. Unfortunately, due to our tragic history, the database of Polish wartime losses is still enormous. However, the Polish government attaches great importance to this issue as it’s one of our key priorities. Using this opportunity, I would like to thank the United States’ authorities involved in this difficult process for their close co-operation with my services that deal with wartime losses at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. It is our common success.” said during the ceremony Poland’s  Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski.

The oil-on-copper painting, “St. Philip Baptizing the Servant of Queen Kandake”, portrays an episode from the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament. It is the work of a well-known 18c. German painter, working, among others, as the court painter in Darmstadt. The painting came from the collection of Piotr Fiorentini, a Polish officer, official and collector. The work of art remained at the National Museum in Warsaw until the outbreak of the Second World War. The wartime fate of the Seekatz painting is still unknown. One may only assume that it remained at the Museum until the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising in 1944.

In his remarks, Poland’s Ambassador to the US Ryszard Schnepf thanked American authorities for their engagement and  efficient cooperation with Polish diplomats, which resulted in a successful repatriation.  Ambassador Schnepf expressed also his personal gratitude to the former Deputy Consul General of Poland in New York, Marek Skulimowski for his engagement in the case.

It was only in 2011 that it was possible to establish, in cooperation with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), that the Seekatz painting was put up for sale in one of the New York auction houses in 2011 and was subsequently purchased by an art gallery in London. Returning the painting from London to New York, and at the same time allowing the transfer of the work to Poland, was a result of a complex legal and administrative process and months of cooperation between the Embassy of Poland in Washington, DC and federal Homeland Security Investigations officials.

Embassy of the Republic of Poland
Washington, D.C.