PARIS (AFP) – A Paris court on Friday ordered Christie’s auction house to return a painting stolen by the Nazis to the heirs of its owner, a cousin of the writer Marcel Proust.
Occupying Nazi forces seized The Penitent Magdalene by the Dutch artist Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) in October 1942 from Lionel Hauser, said the court ruling, seen by AFP.
Hauser, who came from a French Jewish family, fled to the south of France after German forces invaded. He was a distant cousin and confidant of Proust, author of the 20th-Century masterpiece In Search of Lost Time.
The painting’s whereabouts were largely unknown until 2017, until its owner asked when the London-based auction house to sell it. Christie’s had previously sold the same work in 2005 for EUR60,000 (USD74,000).
This time, it researched the painting’s provenance and discovered that it had been part of Hauser’s collection and was also listed on a record of works plundered in France during the war.
It contacted Hauser’s heirs and proposed splitting the profits of the sale but the offer was refused, according to French media reports.
The court also ordered Christie’s to pay the heirs EUR10,000 (USD10,900) and reveal the identity of the painting’s current owner and its current whereabouts, as well as its sales record.