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Artwork Stolen By Nazis Found In Upstate NY Returned To Heirs

Photo of "Winter" provided by U.S. Department of Justice
Photo of "Winter" provided by U.S. Department of Justice

A portrait stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis in 1933 and found in an upstate New York museum last year will be returned to the heirs of the original owners.

American artist Gari Melchers’ “Winter” depicts a couple in a snowy village. The painting of a woman with her head wrapped in red and patterned cape beside a man in a blue coat and black hat was purchased in 1900 by Rudolf Mosse, a Jewish newspaper publisher in Berlin.

Roger Strauch, President of the Mosse Foundation, spoke during a virtual press conference Thursday about Mosse, his step-great-grandfather.

“He owned the Berliner Tageblatt, which we can think of as the New York Times of Germany. It was the country’s leading progressive voice. The paper was outspoken in its criticism of the rise of the Nazi movement,” said Strauch.

Strauch says as Adolph Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels rose to power, they vilified Mosse’s newspaper more than 20 times.

Facing persecution in 1933, the Mosses fled Germany, leaving behind their property including their extensive art collection. “Winter,” stolen with the rest, changed hands, and it eventually ended up in America. It was located in the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York in September 2019, where it had been for decades.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette Bacon stood next to the painting, recovered through an FBI program focused on recovering lost art.

“And ‘Winter’ is one of the latest examples of the FBI’s success. We are delighted today to return ‘Winter’ to its rightful owners,” said Bacon.

“Winter” had been at the museum after it was purchased in 1934 by Bartlett Arkell, the co-founder and president of the Imperial Packing Company, which later became the Beech-Nut Packing Company.

“I’d like to emphasize in this case there was no evidence that the Arkell museum knew when they took custody of the painting back many years ago that it was stolen,” said Bacon.

Suzan Friedlander is Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Arkell Museum, which relinquished all rights to the painting.

“The Arkell Museum has been part of making something right at long last. We do take that responsibility very seriously and to heart,” said Friedlander.

“Winter” is expected to be auctioned. Roger Strauch estimates it could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Peter Magnetto said it was remarkable to speak at Thursday’s announcement.

“Our office – the FBI Albany office – is extremely proud to right even just this one wrong done during this evil period of history,” said Magnetto.

Due to the pandemic, Spectrum News provided pool footage of the press conference.

For more information visit: https://mosseartproject.com/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.