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Governor Pataki Announces Holocaust Era Art Settlement
- Painting Seized by Nazis in 1940 is Returned to Great-Nieces of Original Owner -

February 3, 2000

Governor George E. Pataki today announced a major Holocaust-era art settlement by the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) of the New York State Banking Department. Madonna and Child in a Landscape, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472-1553) and seized by the Nazis in 1940, will be returned to the great-nieces of its original owner.

The settlement completes protracted negotiations with the North Carolina Museum of Art, which obtained the painting in 1984 from the estate of Marianne Khuner of Beverly Hills, California. The 16th century masterpiece is among the public museum’s most important holdings and occupies a prominent spot in the museum’s display of northern European art.

"This settlement is an important victory for Holocaust survivors and their heirs," Governor Pataki said. "As we continue to make every effort to seek justice for those who were victimized during one of the darkest periods of history, it has become clear that we must also carefully look to our own museums and collections.

"The State of North Carolina should be commended for its decision to return this painting to its rightful owners. New York State will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to help Holocaust survivors and their heirs recover what is rightfully theirs."

One of the major artists of the German Renaissance, Lucas Cranach was court painter to the Electors of Saxony in Wittenberg. Around 1518, Cranach painted a series of small devotional images of the Madonna and Child to which the panel Madonna and Child in a Landscape belongs. Cranach’s religious motifs were sought after and treasured by Adolph Hitler and top Nazis, many of whom became ardent collectors of looted art.

The painting was confiscated from the home of the wealthy Viennese industrialist Philip von Gomperz on October 29, 1940. It was later purchased by Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi governor of Austria and former head of the Hitler youth, who acquired the Cranach Madonna for his villa. After the war, von Schirach was tried along with other major Nazi criminals at Nuremberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The heirs of Philip von Gomperz have attempted to recover the painting, along with other items from the Gomperz collection, for the past several decades.

The HCPO, created by Governor Pataki in 1997, assists individuals in recovering assets deposited in European banks, monies never paid from insurance policies issued by European insurance companies, and art that was lost or looted before or during World War II. Since opening, the office has received 4,397 filed claims and more than 8,000 inquiries from individuals in 34 countries and 44 states. The office charges no fees to claimants.

Acting Superintendent of Banks Elizabeth McCaul said, "This settlement is a perfect example of how diligently our Holocaust claims office has worked to bring justice to the survivors and their families. This is an important victory that surely will be a catalyst for future recoveries. The Banking Department will continue to fulfill Governor Pataki’s pledge to provide vital assistance in recovering assets that remain missing since the Holocaust."

Superintendent of Insurance Neil D. Levin, who helped set up the HCPO and who serves on the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, said, "Today we are marking a significant milestone in New York’s effort to restore moral justice to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. Similarly, we are continuing to make progress with European insurers in our efforts to launch the International Commission’s claims process and ensure that as many of these claims are paid as quickly as possible."