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France ordered to return ‘lost’ Renoir, Gauguin and Cézanne artworks

The pieces were found to have been wrongfully distributed during World War Two after the death of their original art dealer, and are now held by the musées du Louvre and Orsay

Some of the ‘lost’ artworks are currently held in the Louvre and Orsay museums in France, and have been ordered to be returned to their rightful owners Pic: Goncharovaia / Shutterstock

The French state has been ordered to return four ‘lost’ artworks by artists Renoir, Gauguin, and Cézanne to their rightful owners after the pieces were found to have been wrongfully sent elsewhere.

The order came from the Paris administrative tribunal last week (Friday, February 10). It ruled that four pieces, all of which ‘disappeared’ at the end of World War Two, should be returned to their rightful owners.

The musée d’Orsay has confirmed that it is in possession of four of the paintings, while the musée du Louvre has the two drawings.

The pieces ordered to be returned are:

  • Marine: Guernsey (painting), and Le jugement de Paris (drawing) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

  • Nature morte à la mandoline (painting) by Paul Gauguin

  • Sous-bois (drawing) by Paul Cézanne

The paintings were wrongfully distributed along with three other pieces: 

  • Roses in a Vase (painting) and Les grandes baigneuses (painting), by Renoir

  • Tête de vieillard (painting) by Cézanne

The pieces, which had previously been in the possession of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, were found to have been wrongfully distributed after Mr Vollard’s death in 1939.

The two experts charged with looking after the works collaborated with one of the dealer’s brothers, to send the pieces to Germany, in hope of selling them there. They were found in Germany at the end of the war.

Now, the would-be owners, who still have the legal rights to the pieces, have successfully won their case to have the works restored to them. They had asked the management of Musées de France, and the Foreign Office, to lobby for the return of these pieces.

The works are classified as part of the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR) list, which was created and is maintained to ensure the care of pieces stolen from France during World War Two and later found outside the country.

In 2018, the state had refused to return four of the seven petitioned pieces. The rightful owners had asked for this refusal to be overturned. In 2022, the ownership of the paintings and drawings was established, and the judge this week determined that the 2018 refusal had been “wrong”.

The state may yet still appeal the decision in the Paris Administrative Court of Appeal, but there is no indication, yet, of whether it will do so.

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Renoir work stolen by Nazis returned to French owner

France to return Klimt art taken by Nazis to owners' heirs

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