Painting lost in Holocaust to be auctioned in London under Polish-brokered deal

AP 22 April 2008

Warsaw, Poland:  A 17th-century Dutch painting whose Jewish owner was killed during World War II is to be auctioned this week after Poland helped broker an agreement between his descendants and the current owner, an official said Tuesday.  

The oil painting "A Boy, in Profile, Singing, in a Feigned Oval" by Pieter de Grebber dates from the late 1620s. The asking price at Friday's auction is between 20,000 and 30,000 British pounds (€25,000-€38,000; US$40,000-US$60,000), Christie's auction house in London says on its Web site.

When World War II broke out, the painting belonged to Abe Gutnajer, a leading Jewish art collector and antiquarian in Warsaw. Gutnajer was killed by Nazi troops in the Warsaw Ghetto in July 1942, and the painting — which he had bought at an auction in Berlin in 1917 — went missing.

The picture was either confiscated by Nazi officials or looted by Nazi troops after Gutnajer and his family were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, said Wojciech Kowalski, who leads Poland's efforts to restitute works of art looted during World War II.

The painting resurfaced in 2006 when a Latvian, who requested anonymity, offered it for auction at Christie's.The auction house confirmed the attribution to de Grebber of the unsigned work, which officials found on Poland's list of art that went missing during the war.

Kowalski, a Polish Foreign Ministry official, spent two years helping to negotiate a deal between the current Latvian owner and Gutnajer's descendants.

"The sides reached a just and fair solution," he said. That cleared the way for it be auctioned with the approval of Eve Gutnajer-Infanti, the widow of Gutnajer's son, Ludwik, who lives in Philadelphia, and of her children, Stefan and Krystyna.

Kowalski said both sides were satisfied with the agreement, but would not give details or say where the proceeds of the sale would go.

"We are happy that it was not destroyed and surfaced, but it's privately owned and there was no way Poland could get it back," Kowalski told The Associated Press.
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