Recovered Nazi-looted painting given to museum

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Baroque-era painting looted by the Nazis in 1944 has been installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after it was returned to its owner and donated to LACMA.

The life-size figure of St. Catherine of Alexandria— painted in Italy around 1615 by Bernardo Strozzi — was placed Monday in the museum’s galleries for European art, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Valued at up to $3 million, it is a promised gift to the museum by Philippa Calnan, the original owner’s sole direct descendant. Calnan is a retired public affairs director at LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

The work, known for its iridescent color and theatrical side-lighting, turned up on the art market five years ago. On Friday, an Italian court ordered it returned to Calnan.

The Times said it is highly unusual for a major painting plundered from a private party during wartime to be given to a museum upon restitution, rather than sold to settle claims from multiple heirs.

The painting, among Strozzi’s best known, was one of nearly a dozen works stolen from the collection of Charles A. Loeser, an American expatriate and heir to a Brooklyn department store fortune. Loeser moved to Italy in 1890 and died in 1928.

Loeser’s widow, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter left Florence before the German occupation, leaving behind valuable works of art that were restricted from leaving Italy. The Strozzi painting disappeared in April 1944, after the Nazi prefect set up headquarters in the family’s Villa Torri di Gattaia, on the city’s highest hill.

The work by Strozzi was one of several from the Loeser collection that appeared on the authoritative list of Nazi-plundered art compiled after the war by Rodolfo Siviero, an Italian art historian called “the 007 of art” for his work as an Allied secret agent. It is also recorded in Germany’s Lost Art Internet Database, established to track Nazi plunder.

The painting first surfaced around 2008 in Vienna, where it was sold by an unidentified Austrian collector.

Sotheby’s was approached about accepting the painting for auction, but research into its ownership revealed its history as a stolen piece. The auction house notified Italian police and contacted Calnan, who is Loeser’s granddaughter.

The painting had by then been jointly bought by two Old Master art dealers. Calnan was blocked by the Italian courts from obtaining an export license for what was deemed a national treasure. She appealed the ruling and won.

The painting was shipped from Milan last week.

A popular saint since the Middle Ages, Catherine of Alexandria was revered for her chastity, scholarly acumen and unshakable faith. After converting hundreds to Christianity, she was condemned to death by 4th century Roman Emperor Maxentius.

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