Poland is now back in possession of two paintings by Dutch artist Dieric Bouts, which were looted during World War II.
The two oil paintings are from the second half of the 15th century and are in 16th-century wooden frames. They convey images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ in a crown of thorns. The paintings found their way to the famous Czartoryski collection in 1883.
Poland’s culture ministry found the paintings in 2019 in Spain. The recovery process took until this year and was only possible as a result of close cooperation with Spain.
The handover of the paintings took place in the Museo Provincial de Pontevedra. Polish Culture Minister Piotr Gliński said they would soon return to Poland, to the castle in Gołuchow where they were previously displayed. Gliński said this shows that Poland’s efforts to recover works of art lost during the war were bearing fruit.
It is difficult to make a precise estimate of the scale of the heritage and art lost by Poland during World War II. The figure most often cited is 516,000 items. The ministry of culture is currently pursuing 130 restitution cases in a dozen countries around the world.
Persoal técnico procede ao traslado dos cadros á mesa onde van ser embalados para o seu envío a Polonia pic.twitter.com/pETiOpnVgO
— Deputación Pontevedra (@depo_es) January 25, 2023
The Czartoryski collection was one of the largest collections of art in Europe in the 19th century. The family’s wish was for the works not to be dispersed or sold but to remain as a single collection available for viewing by connoisseurs of art.
The protection of the collection was possible until the outbreak of World War II. The Czartoryski family managed to hide some works in the castle in Gołuchów and some in Warsaw, but the Germans managed to uncover both troves. What the Germans failed to take, the Soviets stole in 1945 with a part of the collection finding its way to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Pieces of the collection were recovered in 1946, as Austria and the USSR returned some works. Other items were recovered in 1956. However, a large part of the Czartoryski collection remains abroad to this day, with some of it in private hands.