Director of the Uffizi Galleries, Eike Schmidt, has kicked off the new year with an appeal: return a painting stolen from the Palazzo Pitti’s collections by Nazi soldiers, healing a 75-year-old wound that is not uncommon in the post-war art world.
During their retreat in 1944, Wehrmacht soldiers removed Vase of Flowers by Jan van Huysum, along with several other still-life masterpieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, from the Villa Bossi-Pucci, where it was transferred in 1943, having previously been on display in the Palatine Gallery since 1824. The artwork was eventually brought to Germany, where it ended up in the hands of an unidentified family. Though its whereabouts were unknown for decades, following reunification in 1991, several intermediaries came forward on behalf of the family to demand the Italian authorities pay to have the painting returned. These attempts were unsuccessful and Florence’s district attorney’s office eventually concluded that the painting belongs to the Italian State, and so it cannot be bought.
“Germany must abolish its law regarding paintings stolen during the war,” says Schmidt, referring to the statute of limitations preventing prosecution for crimes committed more than 30 years ago, “and ensure that these works be returned to their rightful owners. Germany has a moral duty to return this work to our museum, and I hope that the German state will do so as soon as possible, along with every other work of art stolen by the Nazis.”
Underlining Schmidt’s plea is a black and white reproduction of the painting newly on display in the Sala dei Putti in Palazzo Pitti, alongside an Italian, English and German-language panel explaining that the work was stolen in 1944.