A painting pillaged by Nazis was returned to Jewish owners 80 years later

An expressionist painting that was looted by Nazis in 1942 has been triumphantly returned to its Jewish owners.

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels has returned an expressionist painting to the descendants of a German-Jewish couple after it was looted by Nazis nearly 80 years ago.

Created in 1913 by German artist Lovis Corinth, the still life, Flowers, was consigned to the museum system in 1951 after post-war investigators could not locate the rightful owners.

Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters

The successful return of this painting to its ancestral owners is the first restitution of artwork looted from a Jewish family in World War II by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts conglomerate.

Belgium’s secretary of state in charge of museums, Thomas Dermine, convened with a lawyer representing the lineage of Gustav and Emma Mayer, the German-Jewish couple who originally possessed the painting before fleeing Germany in 1938.

“This restitution, the first by the Museum of Fine Arts, is a very strong signal: even decades later, justice can triumph”, Dermine said.

The reclamation of the artwork is “an opportunity to remind people of the horrors” of far-right Nazism and nationalism. “To repair is to remember and to remember is to avoid the return of the worst.”

The Mayers owned a total of 30 paintings that were left in storage during an overstay in Brussels during 1938 and 1939 but sadly Flowers is the only one that has been recovered.

A Nazi task force led by Hitler’s lackey, Alfred Rosenberg, claimed the collection of fine art in 1942 as part of a systematic plundering of cultural artefacts belonging to European Jews.

The Mayers 9 descendants live throughout the UK, South Africa and the US. They have not decided what to do with the painting but the family lawyer, Imke Gielen said: “they are delighted that at least one of the missing paintings has been identified after 80 years and has now been returned”.

She added, “today is the day of restitution which we celebrate, and other things will come in the next few days. The family has to decide”.