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German State Returns 19th-Century Painting Looted by Nazis 

The Bavarian State Painting Collections have restituted a painting by 19th-century Austrian painter Joseph Wopfner looted by the Nazis.

Munich’s Neue Pinakothek, one of Bavaria’s state-run galleries, told the German press agency dpa that the painting, Fischerboote bei Frauenchiemsee (1884), was bought by Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann in 1924 for the Reich’s Munich headquarters. Bormann, Hitler’s functionary, was among the highest-profile war criminals arraigned at the Nuremberg trials in 1945, though he disappeared abroad before facing his sentence.

The painting has been returned to the heirs of Nuremberg toy manufacturer and art collector Abraham Adelsberger, who died in 1940. He willed his art collection to his son-in-law Alfred Isay in 1933, who took it to Amsterdam while fleeing from the Nazis. 

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“I am glad that we can return Joseph Wopfner’s painting to its rightful owner,” said Bavaria’s art minister Bernd Sibler. “The Adelsberger and Isay families suffered great suffering from the National Socialists: They were persecuted, driven from their homeland and deported to concentration camps. We cannot undo these unspeakable atrocities by returning the work of art, but it should contribute to more justice.”

It’s unclear when Alfred Isay lost possession of Fischerboote bei Frauenchiemsee, but records from the era indicate that, during occupation, the family was under pressure from German authorities to sell off their collection. At the end of the war, the trove of works looted from Dutch collectors was obtained by the American government, which transferred a number of works to the Munich Central Collecting Point.

“We hope that this matter will be spread around the world so that future generations can also learn about the history of the Adelsberger-Isay family during the terrible Holocaust,” the family’s lawyer, Nathan Scheftelowitz, said in a statement. The family will continue to pursue the entirety of their looted collection, which contained paintings, sculptural works, and porcelain objects.

This marks the 20th work restituted to the heirs of Jewish owners by Germany’s Bavarian state, which includes the cities of Munich and Nuremberg. “Every restitution serves to raise awareness of former injustices, former life fates and often losses, expulsions and murders,” Bernhard Maaz, general director of the Bavarian State Painting Collections, said in a statement. 

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