Despite being far off from European battlefields, there is more Nazi loot in Japan than you might expect. Last year, I wrote about how the descendants of a Jewish family whose art collection was looted by the Nazis during the Second World War are in the process of suing a Japanese company. The company’s museum contains a Van Gogh sunflower painting that was illegally confiscated during the war and later purchased by the company’s owner. And now, just last week, Japanese authorities are repatriating an Italian Baroque masterpiece to Poland nearly eighty years after the Nazis looted it from the country.
Alessandro Turchi was a northern Italian Baroque painter who mainly lived and worked in and around Verona. He was a contemporary of Caravaggio, and Turchi was influenced by him, as seen by the chiaroscuro in some of his biblical and historical scenes. Turchi executed his painting Madonna with Child sometime in the early to mid-sixteenth century and, until 1940, it hung in the Lubomirski Palace in Przeworsk, a small town in the southeast of Poland about 113 miles east of Kraków. The Germans confiscated the painting during their occupation of the country in the 1940s, and it was not seen again for decades. Kajetan Mühlmann, an Austrian art historian and SS officer, considered it one of Poland’s 500 most valuable artworks, along with works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, and Raphael.
Polish authorities spotted the painting on the website of Mainchi Auction in January 2022 and had it pulled from the sale before the bidding began. In a rare act of generosity and understanding, the painting’s owner, who consigned it to Mainchi Auction in Tokyo, agreed to the repatriation without compensation. Japan officially returned the work to Poland in a ceremony at Tokyo’s Polish embassy last Thursday. Poland’s current efforts to return looted works to the country have resulted in the repatriation of around 600 works of art. Turchi’s Madonna with Child is the first to be returned from Japan. The works returned to Poland so far only make up a fraction of the estimated 66,000 works of art taken during the war. The country’s deputy prime minister Piotr Gliński says the painting will likely be sent to a regional museum near Przeworsk first before permanently hanging at the Lubomirski Princes Museum in Wrocław after renovations are complete.