France ceremoniously handed over a Nazi-confiscated watercolor to its rightful owner on Wednesday, a symbolic gesture aimed at showing its commitment to returning property stolen from Jews.
The 19th-century landscape “The Gatherers” - a scene of women working in a field of haystacks - was returned to Antoinette Carvailho, 87.
It was just the latest restitution of Jewish belongings by European governments, under pressure to return art and money that occupying German forces stole during World War II.
Surrounded by her children and grandchildren, Carvailho seemed overwhelmed when she accepted the painting. It was one of 900 artworks the Nazis took from the chateau of her late stepfather, said her son Philippe Carvailho.
“She had such a hard time getting it back,” he said, “but now she’s exhilarated.”
This painting was one of 28 works stored in an East German museum since the war and given to France by the Bonn government in 1992, two years after German reunification.
So far, France has returned eight of them. The 20 others - including works by Monet, Delacroix and Renoir - are being kept in French museums as archivists search for their owners and advertise them on the Internet.
The government’s public effort to return the paintings came amid recent revelations on the whereabouts of property - from art in Austria to gold in Swiss banks - that the Nazis stole from Europe’s Jews.
The city of Paris suspended the sale of municipally owned apartments last month after a new book said at least 100 of the buildings had been confiscated from Jews during the Nazi occupation.
On Monday, the newspaper Le Figaro, citing documents at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., reported that German forces methodically stole 22,000 artworks from Jews in France.
The 28 paintings passed to the Foreign Ministry were seized by a German army officer who asked on his deathbed that they be returned to their rightful owners, said France’s foreign minister, Herve de Charette.
De Charette, with German Ambassador Imo Stabreit, presented the painting to Carvailho.
Philippe Carvailho said his mother recognized the watercolor, painted in 1844 by Leon Lhermite, when she saw it in a foreign ministry exhibit in 1992.