World

Priceless painting looted by Nazis returns to Poland from Japan

Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, right, adresses the media during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, saying that a precious 16th century painting has been returned to Poland (Czarek Sokolowski/AP/PA)
Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, right, adresses the media during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, saying that a precious 16th century painting has been returned to Poland (Czarek Sokolowski/AP/PA) Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, right, adresses the media during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, saying that a precious 16th century painting has been returned to Poland (Czarek Sokolowski/AP/PA)

A priceless 16th century Italian painting that was looted by Nazi Germany during the Second World War and discovered in Japan has been returned to Poland.

The “Madonna with Child” attributed to Alessandro Turchi, is the latest of some 600 looted artistic pieces that Poland has successfully repatriated.

More than 66,000 so-called war losses remain unaccounted for. The painting was handed over during a ceremony at Poland’s Embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Culture minister Piotr Glinski told reporters in Warsaw that the baroque painting was on the Nazis’ list of the 521 most valuable pieces of art among the tens of thousands of art items that they looted when they occupied Poland between 1939-45.

He said it was “not easy” to explain the history behind the looted works as well as the need for their return.

But he said the “Madonna with Child” was returned following negotiations with the Japanese side and “the Mainichi Auction Inc as well as the person who was in possession of the painting have decided to return it to Poland, without any costs”.

The painting was identified by ministry experts at an auction in Tokyo in 2022.

It comes from a collection of Poland’s 18th century aristocrat Stanislaw Kostka-Potocki.

In 1823, the painting was listed among artworks belonging to another Polish aristocrat, Henryk Lubomirski, in the town of Przeworsk. It was looted during the war and was sold at a New York auction in the late 1990s.

Poland has for decades actively sought to repatriate art looted during the war by the Nazis and Soviet troops.

Agata Modzelewska, head of the ministry’s department for restitution of culture items, said the Polish side always stresses in negotiations that returning looted art is “the best moral and ethical gesture”.

“More and more of the looted objects are appearing at auctions because the memory (of their past) has weakened and the persons who are in their possession now do not have the full knowledge or are not aware of where the artwork is coming from,” Ms Modzelewska told The Associated Press.