Painting plundered during Nazi occupation returned to Poland

AP 27 July 2011

Poland’s Culture Minister...
Poland’s Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski shows 19th century painting “Jewish Woman Selling Oranges” by Polish painter Aleksander Gierymski to reporters in Warsaw, Poland today.

WARSAW, Poland — A valuable 19th century Polish painting that went missing during World War II has been returned to Poland after being removed from auction in Germany, the culture minister said Wednesday.

Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski revealed Aleksander Gierymski’s "Jewish Woman Selling Oranges" to reporters, and said the painting was returned to Poland after many months of on-and-off negotiations with lawyers representing a German person.

The German, who had the painting for more than 30 years, has requested anonymity, Zdrojewski said.

"During those long months, my main thought was to have this picture returned to Poland," Zdrojewski said.

The work — sometimes referred to as the "Orange Vendor" — was painted around 1880-1881, and is one of several works Gierymski produced showing Jewish life in one of the city’s poor districts.

The oil-on-canvas painting shows an old woman in a cap and a thick shawl over her shoulders knitting as she holds two baskets, one filled with oranges. She has shrunken cheeks that give her an impoverished look, and is set against a foggy Warsaw skyline.

The painting has been returned to its original home in the National Museum in Warsaw where it will undergo many months of renovation, said museum director Agnieszka Morawinska.

She described it as a "priceless masterpiece" that pleased the painter, rarely content with his own work.

Its return is a "very special day and a true gift for the museum," she said.

The picture went missing from the National Museum in 1944, five years into Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland during the war. It was among a huge numbers of cultural artifacts stolen or plundered by German and Soviet forces during their joint wartime occupation of Poland. Polish government is making efforts to find and bring the works of art back.

The work resurfaced last November among items offered for sale at a small auction house near Hamburg. Poland’s chief insurer PZU SA supplied an undisclosed sum of money for a compensation that was agreed on in negotiations with the German who had it .
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