It’s not uncommon to see an Old Master work sold at an auction house to satisfy a restitution claim. But it’s not every day than an auction house employee spots a disputed work on loan to a US museum and calls the family to alert them to the work’s presence in the US. Christie’s will now sell Girolamo Romano’s “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue.”
The work is believed to have been among more than 70 paintings from Gentili di Giuseppe’s collection auctioned by the French Vichy government in 1941, court records indicate. Members of the family who fled the occupation have said the sale was illegal and had sought the painting’s return.
Court records indicate that some of the paintings auctioned off were allegedly bought by “straw” purchasers on behalf of Nazi officials.
The famed Pinacoteca di Brera museum in Milan, which is owned by the Italian government, acquired the Romanino painting in 1998 but refused to return it to the family.
Salem said Wednesday that a Christie’s auction house employee who visited the Milan museum last year saw the painting had been lent out and called him. That triggered an investigation that involved Interpol, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s office.