The Nazis were really hit and miss when it came to art. While they stripped German museums of “degenerate” art and burned thousands of pieces in the courtyard of the Berlin Fire Department in the 1930s, they also systematically grabbed anything of interest in occupied Europe and brought it back to the Reich for the planned Führermuseum— in addition to officers and functionaries who simply looted pieces they liked and sent them home to the frau.
This, of course, led to the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA)– popularly known as the Monuments Men– who tried to turn back the clock when the purloined artwork was discovered in the war’s endgame. While the unit was disbanded by 1947, their work continues.
The FBI announced this week they are moving to recover a piece, A Family Portrait, aka An Amorous Couple, aka A Loving Glance, painted by minor French Rococo-style artist Pierre Louis Goudreaux.
Why? The painting was allegedly stolen from the Bohdan & Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, during WWII.
According to an affidavit, the Khanenko had been willed the painting by Tsarist-era art collector Vasilii Aleksandrovich Shchavinskii in 1924 and is seen in photographs of the interior of the Museum in the 1930s.
When the Germans crossed the Dnieper into Kyiv in August 1941, the Khanenko evacuated some of its artwork eastward but left the Goudreaux behind in the shuffle.
The Germans occupied Kiev, September 19, 1941.
Once the city fell– which was disastrous to segments of the local population who couldn’t collaborate with the Germans– the Reichskommissariat Ukraine then seized numerous pieces from the Museum for the residences of occupying authorities and German troops reportedly looted many remaining valuables when they pulled out in 1944, so it’s unsure just who swiped it, but when the Reds came back into the city and did a review in 1948, the painting was no longer there.
Fast forward to 2013, and the Goudreaux resurfaced on the website of a New York auction house with a provenance that it had been held in a private collection in London and then a private collection in Massachusetts before being bought by a dealer in 1993.
So, it changed a bunch of hands from 1944 when it ghosted from Ukraine to when it appeared in London, likely several decades ago. How it got there is the mystery.
In the meantime, the Feds are trying to get it to send it home.
If you are curious about other pieces that are still missing, check out the Lost Art Foundation.