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Renoir painting stolen by Nazis returned to its Jewish owner’s granddaughter

In a Battery Park City ceremony, “Deux Femme Dans Un Jardin (Two Women in a Garden)” was presented to the granddaughter of the Jewish art collector who owned the painting before the Nazis seized it.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting "Deux Femme Dans Un Jardin (Two Women in a Garden)" is displayed at a Museum of Jewish Heritage ceremony on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

A Renoir painting looted by the Nazis over 75 years ago is finally back in the hands of the French family that spent decades trying to find it.

The artwork, titled “Deux Femme Dans Un Jardin (Two Women in a Garden),” was presented to Sylvie Sulitzer, the granddaughter of Alfred Weinberger, a Jewish art collector, on Wednesday during a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City.

Weinberger had stored his priceless collection in a Paris bank vault before World War II only for it to be seized by the Nazis. Sulitzer said her grandfather, who died many years ago, had never stopped searching for his paintings.

“History will never cancel what happened,” said Sulitzer, 59, who praised lawyers and law enforcement officials who helped return the painting to her family. “I’m thankful to be able to show my beloved family — wherever they are — that after all they have been through, there is justice.”

According to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the painting showed up at an art sale in 1975, ended up in London and was sold again in 1977. It was seen at a 1999 sale in Switzerland and then in 2013 at Christie’s Gallery in New York, where a private owner offered it up for auction.

Sulitzer’s lawyer heard about it and contacted the auction house, which in turn contacted the FBI.

The two agencies worked together on an investigation which resulted in the return of the painting to Sulitzer.

“This is a joyous event bringing some measure of justice to Madame Sulitzer and her family,” said Geoffrey Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “But the joy of this event is tempered by the events giving rise to it.”

Berman pointed out the painting, which will be displayed publicly at the museum with free admission until Sunday, was one of the last works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir before his death in 1919. The Impressionist master, suffering from severe arthritis, sometimes needed paintbrushes tied to his hands after he could no longer hold them, he said.

Sulitzer said she wished her grandfather could have been alive to see the painting returned.

“It’s sort of a reward for his research and all the sadness he (went) through,” she said.

But the moment was also bittersweet. Sulitzer said she will likely have to sell the painting to repay compensation she received from the French and German governments for the family property that was stolen during the war.

She said she was unsure how much the painting was worth or how much she has to pay back.

“I would have loved to keep it,” Sulitzer said. “But I can’t help it, that’s life.”

She said the symbolism of having the painting returned has even more value than the artwork.

“It’s very important that we, me as a human being, as a Jewish person, to consider that you have people who work for the justice,” she said.

Sulitzer said she hopes to find other paintings owned by her family and will continue her current business, operating a deli in France.

“It’s a lovely story for me,” she said with a laugh. “I think I might write a book when I’ll be retired.”

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