Allyson Lee of Millis knows that every painting tells a story — but sometimes it’s the story behind the painting that matters most.
A fine art specialist with the Dedham-based auction house Grogan & Co., Lee recently helped return a 19th century painting by Polish artist Josef Brandt, looted during World War II, to the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland.
“The painting went into our online catalog (for an upcoming auction), and it was a couple of days before the Polish Embassy contacted us to say it possibly was the one that had been looted in 1944,” Lee said. “This was the first time we’ve had this happen.”
The small canvas painting, titled “Watch,” or “Czaty” in Polish, depicts a Polish Cossack soldier standing watch on a horse. It belonged to the Zacheta Gallery of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw before it was transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw for safekeeping in 1939.
Thousands of works of art were destroyed or looted during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. But many, like “Watch,” were documented before being stolen.
A conservator of the National Museum of Warsaw visited Grogan & Co. on May 31, and spent three hours examining the painting before she concluded that it was indeed “Watch.”
“They notified Homeland Security and said it would be collected by an agent,” Lee said. “But my clients decided we should bring it to D.C. to do it nicely instead of having it seized, so I acted as a representative to nicely hand the painting over to say ‘Here you go, this is yours.’”
With the coordinated efforts of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Lee returned the painting on June 15 to Bogdan Zdrojewski, Poland’s minister of culture and national heritage.
She acted on behalf of her clients who were in possession of the painting, as they wished to remain anonymous.
The ceremony took place at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C., and was attended by Polish Ambassador Robert Kupiecki.
“Poland suffered tremendous human and material losses during World War II.,” Kupiecki said. “Over the past 20 years, Poland’s government has successfully recovered numerous works of looted Polish art.
“The Embassy of Poland in the United States is thrilled that thanks to our work, many of Poland’s treasures are returning home. We hope that the recovery of Jozef Brandt’s “Czaty” thanks to the excellent cooperation of Grogan and Co.’s Allyson Lee will set an example for others to follow.