Published: December 31, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC (Courthouse News) – A painting of Ivan the Terrible stolen during World War II will be sent back to Ukraine, the United States announced on December 14 with the filing of a federal forfeiture complaint.
Measuring approximately 7½ by 8½ feet, the 1911 oil painting by Mikhail Panin depicts Ivan the Terrible and his loyal adherents leaving secretly from the Kremlin for Alexandrovskaya Sloboda. The full title of the work is “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina.”
As detailed in the government’s complaint, which was filed in Washington, the painting was one of 64 exhibits that comprised the first exposition of the Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum in 1913. Before that, the painting hung at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.
Until 1941, when it disappeared during the occupation of Ekaterinoslav during World War II, the piece was part of the city museum’s permanent exhibition. That museum today is known as the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum, and two photos of the painting hanging on its walls are included in the complaint.
The government details how a married couple inherited the painting when they bought a home in Ridgefield, Conn., in 1962 from a man who had emigrated to the United States from Switzerland 16 years earlier.
In their new attic, the couple would later find a certificate that commemorated the seller’s World War II service in the Swiss Army. In 1987, a year after the death of the Swiss seller, the home changed hands again. It was this buyer, a resident of Maine described in the complaint as Person 1, who consigned the painting for auction in 2017.
After the painting was advertised in the catalog of an auction house, however, a Ukrainian art museum sent notice of the painting’s provenance and demanded its return.
The FBI subsequently took custody of the painting, and forfeiture proceedings by the US Attorney’s Office ensued.
With the current owners of the Ridgefield property agreeing to waive any claims to the painting, the government says it will return the painting to the embassy of Ukraine in Washington, DC, if no other claims are filed.
“The recovery of this art looted during World War II reflects the commitment of this office to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad,” US Attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement. “The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners.”
[Ed. Note: Additional reporting has revealed the identity of the Ridgefield family as that of David and Gabby Tracy, who purchased the house in which the large painting was installed in 1987. On Facebook’s Old Ridgefield page, a former inhabitant of the home, Tracey Horn, wrote, “Amazing! We grew up with this painting and never knew it was stolen. Our mother got a call from the FBI about it, but we weren’t sure what happened. Good old Ivan was so beautiful on his white horse with a touch of gold in its mane. So happy it is going home to its rightful owners.” The Swiss man has not been publicly identified, although the US Attorney’s office said he died in 1986 with no descendants. The auction house to which the painting had been consigned for sale has been identified as the Potomack Company in Alexandria, Va. “After discovering the once-thought destroyed painting ‘Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina,’ the Potomack Company is honored to play a part in its return to the people of Ukraine,” said Potomack owner and chief executive officer Elizabeth Wainstein. “The painting was consigned to our Greenwich, Conn., representative and our subsequent research brought to light the painting had been stolen during World War II from a Ukrainian museum. Potomack contacted the FBI Art Crimes unit, the consignor and the Ukrainian museum. The Potomack team is appreciative of the assistance and cooperation of all the involved parties and final resolution. We look forward to an official repatriation of the painting in the near future.”]
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