A painting by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, which disappeared from Germany during World War II, has been seized in Moscow after a decades-long dispute with Russia.
The oil painting, Tarquinius and Lucretia (1610–11), was likely acquired by King Frederick I of Prussia and had hung in a gallery at the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany, before the war. It was moved to Rheinsberg Palace in 1942 to protect it from damage but was taken from the palace in 1945. The painting depicts the mythological rape of a Roman noblewoman before her subsequent suicide and is considered to be one of the most significant works still missing from the Sanssouci gallery.
The Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten, a public foundation created after the reunification of Germany in 1994 that administers historic buildings in the area, said in a news release that the work was seized after an official request for legal assistance and with top-level diplomacy with Russia.
“This is the first step towards recovering this highly important masterpiece not only for the Prussian palaces, but also for the entire art world,” the foundation’s director-general Hartmut Dorgerloh said in a statement, thanking Russian authorities.
The news came after German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that the Potsdam Regional Court in Germany determined that Russian businessman Vladimir Logvinenko “is not the owner of the painting” on an appeal he made in 2021 to have his rights to the painting recognized.
The German court said the legal dispute was subject to Russian law, not German law, but made its determination based on “the relevant Russian law,” noting that Logvinenko did not acquire it through a legal or good-faith transaction, and did not inherit it.
Logvinenko acquired the painting in 1999 and had it restored, DW reported. The standoff between Logvinenko and the German foundation did not seem to begin until 2003, when the Chicago Tribune reported that a Russian man had sent an email asking the SPSG if it would like the painting back. The Russian dealer allegedly hoped to secure 25 percent of the painting’s value, estimated at the time around $90 million, wired to a Swiss bank account.
“When we got the e-mail, it came as a big surprise because we had no idea that the painting still existed,” Dorgerloh said at the time. “Our first answer was that we were really, really interested.”
Russian authorities had reportedly seized the work then but did not hand it over to their German counterparts. The following year, the Guardian reported that the Office of the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation ruled that Logvinenko was the rightful owner because he didn’t break any Russian law in acquiring it.
It remains uncertain when the painting will be repatriated to Germany.
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