Tapestry looted by Nazis to be returned to French chateau

The Telegraph 18 June 2014

An 18th century tapestry found in a university store room is to be returned to a French chateau after it was found to have been looted by the Nazis

The Louis XIV tapestry looted by the Nazis

A rare 18th Century tapestry looted by the Nazis from the home of a French nobleman is to be returned to his family's chateau after being stored in an English university for 55 years.

The Louis XIV tapestry was stolen from the Chateau de Versainville in Normandy during the occupation of France when millions of pounds worth of antiques, paintings and works of art were snatched and shipped to Germany.

It was owned by war hero, the Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld, a member of the Marquis, the French resistance who died in a German concentration camp.

It appeared again on the open market in 1959 when it was bought by the University of Sheffield for around £1,300, unaware it had been looted during the Second World War.

The university discovered the 12ft high tapestry, worth " tens of thousands of pounds" was stolen when it decided to sell it last year.

Staff worked with the Art Loss Register an international company that tracks down lost and stolen art and the tapestry is now being returned to its rightful home, the chateau in Normandy where it had hung for over 200 years.

The work was made by Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in around 1720, shows a scene from Ovid's Metamorphoses and is now "easily worth tens of thousands of pounds", according to James Ratcliffe, of the ALR.

A university spokesperson said: "The tapestry was looted at a time when Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld and his wife were both imprisoned in concentration camps.

"Comte Bernard was an active member of the French Resistance before his arrest in Paris in 1943. He died in 1944 as a result of his treatment at Flossenburg concentration camp while his wife survived the war.

Two other tapestries taken from the chateau at the same time are still missing.

Chateau de Versainville is now owned by Comte Jacques de la Rochefoucauld, the descendant of Comte Bernard's brother, and has been significantly renovated.

Comte Jacques who travelled to Sheffield to view the tapestry said: " I am delighted and touched by the generosity of the University of Sheffield in returning the artwork.

"The university has demonstrated respect for those who have suffered from the ravages of war.

"The example that the University has set is one which I hope others will follow in due course, and demonstrates their respect for those who have suffered in the past from the ravages of war.

"In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld this donation brings us great happiness."

It will be exhibited with a plaque to mark its return to the chateau, 500 miles from Sheffield.

Lynne Fox, Heritage Officer at the University of Sheffield, stated that: "We are delighted to see the tapestry returned to its rightful home at the Chateau de Versainville and are very pleased to have been able to assist in this process.

"We were as surprised as anyone to discover the history of the tapestry but we have been working extremely hard to ensure it is returned to the Chateau where it can be appreciated in its original home.

Mr Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries at the Art Loss Register: "In practical terms it, would have been difficult, though not impossible, for the university to sell it without acknowledging the Comte and the object's past.

"Often that might involve a financial settlement. But there are no laws that would have forced the university to return it like this. That is undoubtedly an act of generosity."It has been a pleasure to assist in the restoration of this tapestry to its rightful home.

" We are extremely grateful to the University of Sheffield for their assistance and generosity. It is always satisfying to bring restitution cases to a conclusion and we hope to locate and recover the remaining two missing tapestries in due course through our work.

Since it was established in 1991, the ALR has tracked down lost and stolen art to a value of more than £200 million.
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