Old Master Stolen by Red Army Returns Home to Potsdam

Bloomberg 6 July 2012
By Catherine Hickley

A Baroque painting of the murdered John the Baptist that belonged to Frederick the Great of Prussia will return to Potsdam almost 70 years after a Red Army officer stole it from storage in a palace near Berlin.

The painting is a contemporaneous copy of the 1624-1625 original by Peter Paul Rubens, which shows the head of John the Baptist with the murderous Salome and a servant, according to the Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens. The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Philip D. Murphy, will hand it over in a return ceremony at Sanssouci palace in Potsdam on July 11.

Frederick the Great

Wolfgang Pfauder/Stiftung Preussische Schloesser und Gaerten via Bloomberg
A portrait of Frederick the Great (1763) by Johann Georg Ziesenis. Frederick built an ornate, gilded picture gallery at Sanssouci for his collection. The 300th anniversary of Frederick's birth is to being celebrated in 2012 with dozens of exhibitions and events.

Schloss Sanssouci

Roland Handrick/Stiftung Preussische Schloesser und Gaerten via Bloomberg
Sanssouci palace in Potsdam, Germany. At a ceremony there, the U.S. ambassador will return an Old Master painting that has been missing since a Red Army soldier stole it after World War II. The palace was the summer home of Frederick the Great. The Prussian king's 300th birthday celebration includes a big exhibition in the Neues Palais in Sanssouci Park.

After World War II, the painting disappeared to the Soviet Union and only resurfaced when a private consignor took it to auction in the U.S. about 18 months ago, the foundation said. The painting was identified with the help of the Art Loss Register database and impounded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The consignor agreed to return it.

“This restitution fills another gap in the sad recent history of this significant royal collection,” Hartmut Dorgerloh, the director of the Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens, said in a statement sent by e-mail.

“It’s also an important find for Rubens researchers, as this version of the painting was only known through a black-and- white photograph for the past 60 years,” he said.

The original Rubens painting is lost, the foundation said, though there are further copies of it in Dresden and the U.K. The Potsdam version was housed in Frederick the Great’s ornate, gilded picture gallery at Sanssouci from 1764, making it part of the original collection.

Of the 159 paintings that hung in Frederick’s gallery before the war, 89 are still missing, Samuel Wittwer, the art historian in charge of the collection, said by telephone.

The Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens, which manages Sanssouci and other similar sites, is still missing as many as 4,000 paintings lost in World War II.
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