A Toronto company that specializes in the recovery of valuable artworks looted from families in Europe during WWII is behind the return of a 19th Century painting to the heirs who rightfully own it.
The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University in the U.K. (above) has agreed to return the 19th-century painting by French artist Gustave Courbet, which was seized by the Nazis, to the descendants of its original owner, Robert Bing. The oil landscape is called La Ronde Enfantine.
The 1862 work was looted by a German taskforce called the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg and was earmarked for the personal collection of Hermann Göring.
Seal of the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg“, used from 1941 to 1944 to mark seized documents by the German occupation troops.
“This is a deliberate seizure by the German authorities from a Jewish citizen of France with the diversion of the work of art to Nazi leaders,” the United Kingdom’s Spoliation Advisory Panel wrote in its ruling, released this week. “No other reason for seizure other than the Jewishness of Mr Bing has appeared to explain this seizure.”
In the U.K, The Times of London put together this photoshopped visual to show how La Ronde Enfantine is thought to have been at the centre of a proposed art swap between two of the most powerful figures in Europe, Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister. However, that deal fell through.
The landscape is among hundreds of thousands of pieces of art looted by the Nazis during World War II. The claim was brought to the British panel in 2021 by Mondex Corp., the Toronto art restitution firm.
Bing, a Jewish engineer from a prominent family, fled Paris with his mother in 1940, just before the Nazi occupation, abandoning their upscale apartment and its possessions. As part of the Nazi looting of Jewish homes and buildings, the painting was carried off and reserved for the collection of Göring, the British panel determined.
The British panel gave no criticism for the Fitzwilliam Museum, where the painting was donated in 1951, saying the institution had acted honourably.
Bing joined the French resistance after fleeing Paris and received the the Croix de Guerre medal. He died in 1993.
The Nazis took approximately 600,000 paintings from Jews during WW II, at least 100,000 of which are still missing. Art experts, the storied “ Monuments Men ,” were embedded in the liberating U.S. Army. The looted wealth they preserved was returned to the countries where it was stolen in the expectation that original owners or heirs would receive it. But that has not always been the case, leading to families having to spend decades to prove ownership.
A longer piece about the painting is on the Mondex website, here.
An excellent interactive piece on looted Nazi art, here.