Two Nazi-Looted Paintings Were Returned to a Jewish Family, Who Donated Them Back to the Louvre

The 17th-century artworks were recovered from Germany and placed at the Paris museum in the 1950s

Food, Fruit and Glass on a Table
Food, Fruit and Glass on a Table, Peter Binoit, circa 1620s © RMN / Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

During World War II, the Nazis stole two 17th-century paintings from a Jewish family in France. After spending decades at the Louvre, the artworks were recently returned to the owners’ heirs—who decided to donate them back to the Paris museum. They are now on view at the Louvre as part of a new exhibition on Nazi-looted art.

Floris van Schooten’s Still-Life With Ham and Peter Binoit’s Food, Fruit and Glass on a Table had been held by the Louvre since the 1950s, per a statement from the museum. During those years, they were part of the National Museum Recuperation program, which tries to identify the owners of Nazi-looted works returned to France after the war. French museums still house many of the pieces without confirmed owners.

In 1944, Nazis stole the two paintings from a Parisian mansion owned by Mathilde Javal, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). During World War II, some members of the Javal family went into hiding or fought in the resistance. Five were deported from France and murdered at Auschwitz.

Mathilde Javal survived the war and later filed an official restitution request. However, a lack of sufficient information about ownership, as well as errors in the spelling of names and addresses, prevented the return of the paintings, per the Louvre.

Still-Life With Ham
Still-Life With Ham, Floris van Schooten, circa 1630s © RMN / Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Tony Querrec

About ten years ago, a group of genealogy professionals partnered with France’s culture ministry to investigate the rightful owners of six paintings in the National Museum Recuperation program—including Still-Life With Ham and Food, Fruit and Glass on a Table. The research was conducted free of charge.

The two works were ultimately returned to the 48 members of the Javal family, who donated them back to the Louvre. It is a “duty of memory towards my family, looted from and persecuted, whose history speaks to current generations,” Marion, who did not want to give her full name, told AFP.

The Nazis stole some 650,000 artworks between 1933 to 1945, “many from Jewish families who were arrested and then killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust,” as the Associated Press’ Bobby Caina Calvan wrote last year. “Some of the stolen pieces were created by some of the world’s most heralded artists, including van Gogh, Picasso and Chagall.”

After the war ended, approximately 61,000 works were recovered from Germany and transported to France, 45,000 of which have been returned to their rightful owners, according to the Louvre. AFP reports that the museum still holds approximately 1,600 of these works.

In recent years, a number of restitution efforts carried out by the descendants of Jewish families have been successful. A few months ago, a 16th-century painting stolen by a high-ranking Nazi official was returned to the heir of the original owner, a Dutch-Jewish art dealer. In 2022, the descendants of a well-known Jewish-Austrian performer won their own hard-fought restitution battle. Other heirs are still fighting in court for restitution, while the owners of thousands of looted artworks remain unknown.

Meanwhile, the Javal artworks are now on view at the Louvre in a new exhibition, which also features documents detailing the family’s history.

“These two paintings are not masterpieces worth tens of millions,” a Louvre spokesperson tells the London Times’ David Chazan. “They are by artists unknown to the general public, but they are very beautiful works of a quality to be put on display in the museum.”

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