Seventy years after Nazi officials forced the noted German art dealer Max Stern to sell his collection, one of his paintings has found its way home.
A 17th-century landscape by Dutch painter Jan de Vos was unveiled at the Ben Uri Jewish Museum of Art in London yesterday.
Its retrieval is the result of international detective work by a European auction house and the Canadian foundation dedicated to rebuilding Mr. Stern's collection.
"We're very excited," said Clarence Epstein, head of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project at Montreal's Concordia University, in London for the unveiling.
"This is the third recovery in a year. We never anticipated recovering the works in the short term this way."
The painting, An extensive landscape with travellers on a track near a walled town with a castle and church, a village beyond, dates from the early-to-mid 17th century.
For many years, it was mistakenly attributed to Dutch artist François van Knibbergen, and it was only when it was correctly found to be a de Vos that art experts recognized its ties to Mr. Stern's lost collection.
Mr. Stern, who was Jewish, was born in Munchen-Gladbach, Germany, in 1904 and inherited his father's Dusseldorf art gallery 30 years later.
He was forced by the Nazis to stop dealing in art and, in 1937, had to liquidate all his remaining holdings at auction - around 200 Old Master and Northern European paintings.
He fled to Paris, then London, and finally to Canada, where he was interned for two years.
On his release, he found work in Montreal's Dominion Gallery and went on, with his wife, to become its owner and a highly influential dealer in 20th-century Canadian art.
"This was an individual who had seen great personal loss in his lifetime, which he denied when he came to Canada," Mr. Epstein said.
Mr. Stern made attempts to retrieve his lost European works, but had little success.
He died in 1987 and, having no children, left most of his estate to Concordia and McGill universities and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The de Vos painting was last seen at an exhibition in Germany in 1968, and then fell out of public sight until a seller brought the canvas to the Amsterdam branch of Christie's auction house to be appraised.
When its specialists began looking into its history and realized it had ties with the Stern Gallery, alarm bells went off.
"When our specialists are cataloguing, they're trained to look for certain triggers," said Monica Dugot, director of restitution at Christie's.
"And this painting came up."
Ms. Dugot, who used to be the deputy head of the Holocaust Claims Processing Office, said that Christie's has a "sensitive names" database consisting of thousands of names of art dealers, paintings and victims who were forced to sell their artworks or had them seized.
The Christie's specialist noted the painting's connection to the Stern Gallery, and alerted Ms. Dugot, who contacted Mr. Stern's estate.
This level of co-operation is common among the larger international auction houses, but smaller museums and dealers are not always so forthcoming with information, Mr. Epstein said.
"There are other members of the art trade that don't understand the gravity of going after these art works, and we have to educate them."
He said that auction houses, museums and dealers in Germany, where many of the most high-status Stern paintings remain, are particularly reluctant to co-operate.
The Max Stern Project is in a tussle with the Van Ham auction house in Cologne over three disputed pictures.
The Stern estate has not yet had time to value the painting, but Mr. Epstein said the estimate will likely be "in the five figures."
Although the picture dates to the golden age of Dutch painting, he noted that, "Dutch masters are not necessarily as collectible as Warhols or Damien Hirsts."
Three canvases have been returned to the Stern collection since Concordia University mounted an exhibition about the lost paintings in 2006. Aimée, A Young Egyptian, by Émile Lecomte-Vernet was retrieved by Sotheby's auction house in 2006.
The 19th-century painting of an Egyptian dancer was part of Lot 168 in an infamous sale in Cologne known as Auktion 392.
Portrait of Jan van Eversdyck by Nicolas Neufchatel was discovered in a Mallorca gallery early this year.
The de Vos painting will return to Canada, where it will hang in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.