Eike Schmidt, Director of Uffizi Gallerie

The Uffizi Museum in Florence demands that Germany return the painting “Vase of Flowers”, stolen by the Nazis.

Eike Schmidt, Director of Uffizi Gallerie

This Tuesday, Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, used social media to diffuse a video, in which he strongly requested the repatriation of the painting “Vase of flowers” by Jan Van Huysum, an 18th century Dutch artist.

The beginning of the new year is the perfect opportunity to request once more, the return of the painting to Italy.

In his statement, Eike Schmidt said: “An appeal to Germany for 2019: We hope that this year may finally see the return to the Uffizi Galleries of the celebrated work of art entitled “Vase of Flowers” , a picture painted by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum that was stolen by Nazi troops in World War II.”

According to Schmidt, and despite many requests by the Italian government, the German family, who under German Law is in legal possession of the painting, has yet to return it. He added that several “intermediaries” had contacted the Italian authorities in order to try and sell the painting back and following the most recent of these “outrageous” offers, the Florence public prosecutor decided to open an investigation.

A request for payment by the intermediaries of the unidentified family, at 500,000 Euro below the market price, was refused. The German government, for their part, claims that because of the 30-year statute of limitations applicable to the case, there is simply no legal mechanism to force its return, and therefore no basis for government intervention.

Schmidt riposted claiming this was “absurd” and “outrageous”, as the work of art is very clearly stolen property.

He pointed out that “the painting is already the inalienable property of the Italian State and thus cannot be ‘bought’,”

Schmidt, who is German himself, called on the German government to abolish the statute of limitations for works stolen by Nazis so that any looted art could be restored to its “legitimate owners”.

He stated that “this story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War II and the horrors of Nazism from healing,” and added that… “Germany has a moral duty to return this painting to our museum and I trust that the German Government will do so at the earliest opportunity, naturally along with every other work of art stolen by the Nazi Wehrmacht.”

The story behind the famous stolen painting

From 1933 onwards, German troops under the orders of the Nazi leadership, undertook a massive dispossession of works of art and other valuables throughout Europe, and which were brought back to Germany. At the end of the Second World War, Allied troops manage to recover some of the looted works.

Among the works that have not yet been returned, is the still life “Vase of flowers” by the renowned Dutch painter Jan van Huysum (1682-1749).

The painting, an oil on canvas measuring 47×35 cm, was exhibited for the first time in 1824 at the “Pitti Palazzo” (a Florentine museum), after its purchase by the Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, for his own personal art collection.

It was put on display for over a century alongside works by other Dutch masters. In 1940, shortly after the start of the war, the painting was transferred to a neighbouring village.

In 1944, despite all the precautions, German soldiers managed to seize the picture as they retreated north, just after the Allied landing at Anzio and the liberation of Rome. The canvas was moved to a castle in Bolzano, in the predominantly German-speaking region of South Tyrol in Northern Italy. 

For several decades, all trace of the painting was lost before it finally resurfaced in Germany in 1991, just after the country’s reunification.

Stolen / Rubato / Gestohlen!

As part of the effort to recover the original, a black and white replica of the painting with the word ‘stolen’ written across the top in Italian, English and German, has been on display since New Year’s Day at the Pitti Palace.  Below the frame, a short explanatory legend reads:  “the work was stolen by soldiers of the Nazi army in 1944 and is now in a private German collection “.

Uffizi Gallery/Schmidt's Tweet

The exhibition of looted works of art at the Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum in Paris has a permanent exhibition dedicated to looted works of art recovered from Germany. The Nazis had seized the works during their occupation of France.

The museum is displaying the 31 works of art in order to reunite them with the descendants of their rightful owners.

As for Eike Schmidt, who has been head of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 2019, he has announced that he will be leaving the Uffizi in the second half of 2019 to lead Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum starting in 2020.