Painting stolen by nazis returns to Jewish family after 70 years

A painting stolen by nazis and held by Belgium's leading art museum, Royal Museum of Fine Art has returned a painting it held for 71 years to the great-grandchildren of a Jewish couple Gustav and Emma Mayer whose property was ransacked by the Nazis after they fled Europe at the beginning of World War Two.

The family's Berlin-based law firm originally contacted the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museums of Fine Arts) over five years ago. Eventually on Thursday, after a brief signing ceremony, the painting was wheeled off to be shipped out. The painting stolen by nazis had been returned.

Apparently thirty artworks are missing but this is the first to have been identified because there were no images of the other missing paintings. None of the nine great-grandchildren, who live outside Belgium, were present at the signing.

The stolen painting, of pink flowers in a blue vase is by German artist Lovis Corinth. The Mayer family had to leave their home quickly but were unable to take belongings, including the thirty paintings, which were stolen by the Nazis. Along those taken were the expressionist 'Flowers' painted in 1913 by Lovis Corinth. The Nazis condemned his work as 'degenerate' but were not shy to steal it for profit.

After the war, Belgian authorities failed to establish who owned the painting and entrusted it to the museum in 1951, where it has since been on display.

Museum chief Michel Draguet said it had been easier to find the original owners of artworks in the case of Jewish families living in Belgium, because of the archives and contacts.

"Here, it was impossible even to know if this work is coming from Germany, from another country," Draguet told Reuters.

The museum, which appealed to the public in 2008 on its website for information on the stolen painting, also launched on Thursday two rooms containing and addressing Nazi-looted art and works taken by Belgium during its colonial period.