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    ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ by Wilhelm Volkhart has returned to Poland

    Thanks to the efforts of specialists from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Poland has recovered over 600 individual objects in recent years. This achievement was made possible through collaboration with museum professionals, researchers, authorities, as well as private individuals – enthusiasts fascinated by Polish history and the fate of artworks from Polish collections, who closely monitor auction markets. One such individual is Ms. Halina Jucha, who recognized the stolen painting by Wilhelm Volkhart, ‘Portrait of a Young Woman,’ in the catalogue of a German auction house in February of this year.

    During the presentation and handover ceremony of the recovered artwork to the National Museum in Wrocław, Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Piotr Gliński stated, “Recently, more and more cultural treasures lost by Poland during World War II, as well as those looted in the second half of the 20th century, are returning to Polish museums”. He highlighted that the lack of appropriate security measures and the Iron Curtain, which hindered cooperation with law enforcement agencies in Western Europe and the USA, resulted in stolen Polish artworks remaining undiscovered for many years.

    However, today, with their appearance on the global art market and in foreign auction houses, we have greater capabilities to trace and secure these objects. The development of the internet, new technologies, search methods, and increased societal awareness regarding cultural losses greatly facilitate the daily work of those tirelessly searching for Polish wartime losses and artworks illegally taken from Poland to this day, Minister Gliński pointed out.

    He emphasized that the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has a special Department of Cultural Heritage Restitution, dedicated to searching for and recovering lost artworks. The department maintains two databases: one for wartime losses and another for stolen and illegally exported cultural artifacts.

    Currently, over 100 restitution processes are underway in 16 countries worldwide. Unfortunately, we have submitted 20 restitution claims to the Russian Federation, which have been rejected. We are aware that unless a country becomes civilized, the chances of recovering these artworks are slim, Minister Gliński remarked. He expressed his gratitude to all those who contributed to the recovery of the Wilhelm Volkhart painting and acknowledged those working for the public good in the field of art restitution.

    About the Painting

    Wilhelm Volkhart’s painting, ‘Portrait of a Young Woman,’ created by the 19th-century German painter specializing in portraiture and historical subjects, was completed in 1863. It was stolen from the collections of the National Museum in Wrocław in 1994 and has since been registered in the National Register of Stolen or Illegally Exported Artworks under number 468.

    In February 2023, Halina Jucha, a private individual who has been collaborating with the Department of Cultural Heritage Restitution of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for many years, discovered the artwork in the catalogue of a German auction house in Satow, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Upon receiving the information about the painting’s appearance, the ministry’s staff contacted the auction house, which subsequently withdrew the Volkhart painting from the auction.

    Experts from the Department of Cultural Heritage Restitution, the National Museum in Warsaw, and the Polish Consul General in Hamburg conducted an examination at the auction house in Satow, confirming the identity of the artwork without ambiguity. After reviewing the evidence and documents describing the painting’s history, the auction house handed over Wilhelm Volkhart’s canvas to the Polish authorities.

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