Nazi-looted El Greco portrait returned to owners


Detail 'Portrait of a Gentleman' by El Greco.

Art Recovery International has worked with The Commission for Looted Art in Europe to restitute ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’ by El Greco.

The Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) was acting on behalf of the rightful owners of the work and helped reach an equitable settlement for both parties due to the conclusive evidence. Chris Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International, who was acting on behalf of the gallery that had acquired the painting, said: “This case proves that equitable restitution of looted works is attainable.”

The painting was originally owned by Julius Priester, a Viennese industrialist who fled Vienna in March 1938 for Paris. Six years after Priester fled, the painting was seized by the Gestapo along with the rest of his collection, which he had started in the early 1920s. He never returned to Vienna, instead continuing his efforts to track down his collection from Mexico where he eventually settled in 1940.

In 1945, after the war, investigations took place to find the missing paintings, using international publicity to identify the missing paintings. After Priester’s death the investigations were continued by his heirs and family and then by the CLAE. Anne Webber, co-chair of the CLAE, said that this story highlights “how difficult it is for those who have been dispossessed to find and recover their property.”

After being sent to a dealer in New York in 1951 the painting changed hands several times before eventually ended up with a private owner in 2003. In 2010 the work was acquired by a gallery and last year when the painting came up for sale in New York under commission of a London art dealer, the CLAE made a claim on the painting, beginning the process of restitution.