In 1940, Portrait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot (1890) by Edgar Degas, along with about 400 other works were confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg’s Paris gallery. In 1944, some of his works were among those loaded on a cargo train heading out of the city. The train was intercepted by the Free French Forces (a heroic act that was immortalized in the 1964 film The Train), which just so happened to be led by the Rosenberg’s own son, Lieutenant Alexandre Rosenberg. This enabled the family to recover some of the works (so far, 65 in all).
Unfortunately, Degas’ Portrait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot (1890), was not among the recovered works. Since then, the painting has traded hands a number of times, first surfacing in 1974 at a Hamburg gallery owned by Mathias Hans and subsequently selling to a Swiss buyer. Then, in December 1987 a family member spotted the piece in an art magazine. It was again being offered for sale through Hans’ gallery. When the family member informed Mathias that the work was looted by the Nazis, he stated that confidentiality rules prevented him from disclosing who possessed it, however, the family could pay a compensation of €3m for the piece. In other words, they could buy it back — pay a ransom.
More time has now passed and finally, the Rosenberg family has hired a London based art detective to help track down the painting. The past three generations of the Rosenberg family have kept up the search for all the missing works of art and Marianne (Paul’s granddaughter) hopes that the family’s decision to go public with their request for the return of the Degas might pry it loose.