The sculpture, housed in the Landesmuseum Wuerttemberg in Stuttgart, was auctioned without the owners’ permission in 1937, said an e-mailed statement from Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Ministry for Science, Research and Art. The couple, Jacob and Rosa Oppenheimer, had fled Berlin in 1933. Their art was impounded in 1935, according to ministry spokesman Jochen Laun.
“The state has a historical and moral responsibility to investigate and give back cultural goods seized from those who were persecuted by the Nazi regime,” Baden-Wuerttemberg Art Minister Theresia Bauer said in the statement.
Germany is one of 44 countries which endorsed the non- binding Washington Principles in 1998. Countries pledged to restitute or reach a settlement with the heirs on art in public collections that was looted by the Nazis.
Jacob Oppenheimer died in exile in Nice in 1941. His wife was imprisoned in a French camp before being deported to Auschwitz in 1943 and murdered that same year.
The sculpture, showing a curly-bearded John the Baptist cradling a lamb, was carved in Bavarian Swabia by an artist whose identity remains unknown. The museum acquired the sculpture in 1985 from a private Swiss collector.