‘Portrait of a Lady’ painting returns to Warsaw National Museum

Polish deputy PM and culture minister Piotr Gliński presents the painting. Photo: PAP/Radek Pietruszka

Looted during WWII by Nazi Germans, the painting by Gortzius Geldorp returned to the museum’s collection on Friday.

The painting was recovered by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage with the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“After more than 70 years, the painting has been returned. It was stolen during WWII from the museum. The recovery was possible due to the cooperation of the ministry of culture and the American organisations,” said Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Culture Minister, Piotr Gliński.

He stressed that it was an important day for Polish culture. “But we must remember that it is a drop in the ocean,” he added referring to the objects Poland lost during WWII.

Mr Geldorp’s painting “Portrait of a lady” was in public collections in Warsaw from 1935 till WWII. It was purchased by the city together with a collection of 94 paintings. The wartime fate of the work of art remains unknown.

After the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising, many of the collections located in the city fell victim to looting or were destroyed, or were sent to depots in Lower Silesian province of Poland, Austria and Germany.

In 2011, DHS and ICE officials traced the location of the painting, and the Polish culture ministry at the time, initiated the process of restitution.

After the invasion of Poland in 1939 that kicked off WWII, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union looted Polish cultural artefacts. A significant portion of Poland's cultural heritage, estimated at about half a million art objects, was plundered by the occupying powers. Works of artists including Canaletto, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rubens, were lost.

Poland.pl − the official information website Poland, run by the country’s foreign ministry − states that the work was originally ascribed to Melchior Geldrop. However, after a detailed analysis of the seized work, art historians working closely with the culture ministry concluded that it had been painted by the more widely known Flemish painter, Gortzius Geldorp.