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Feds: Painting stolen by Nazis found at Canajoharie's Arkell Museum

Feds: Painting stolen by Nazis found at Canajoharie's Arkell Museum

The painting had been in the Arkell collection for 85 years, purchased from a New York City gallery, authorities said
Feds: Painting stolen by Nazis found at Canajoharie's Arkell Museum
Canajoharie's Arkell Museum (Background); The painting "Winter" (Inset_
Photographer: Gazette file photo (background); Federal evidence (Inset)

CANAJOHARIE -- A painting stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s has been found in the collection of Canajoharie's Arkell Museum and recovered by federal agents, authorities said.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered the painting last month and recently filed paperwork in federal court to formalize the seizure.

Representatives of the museum have signed documents waiving any right or claim to the painting, the federal filing reads. 

The seizure involves a painting titled "Winter" by artist Gari Melchers, an American Impressionist from Virginia who died in 1932. 

The painting, which has also been referred to as "Skaters" and "Snow," depicts a man and woman walking in the cold in the late-1800s. A member of the Mosse family, the family from whom it was stolen, purchased the painting direct from the artist at a Berlin art exhibition, the federal filing reads.

The painting had been in the Arkell collection since late 1934, when museum co-founder Bartlett Arkell purchased it from an art gallery in New York City.

The federal filing did not indicate what led to the discovery of the painting's origins and seizure, but the seizure appeared to be in conjunction with an organization involved with the Mosse family's descendants, the Mosse Art Restitution Project. 

Suzan D. Friedlander, executive director and chief curator at the Arkell, referenced the project in a statement issued later Tuesday.

"The Arkell Museum was of course very upset to learn the history of the painting's seizure from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933 and its subsequent sale at the Lepke Auction in 1934," Friedlander's statement reads. "We fully support the work of the Mosse Art Research Initiative and other efforts, and willingly turned over the painting to the FBI."

According to the Mosse Art Restitution Project's website, its work has resulted in the restitution of several works of art from the Mosse collection.

"The Project is an active investigation and restitution project conducted by Rudolf Mosse’s heirs," the site reads.

The seizure of the painting was first reported by The Albany Times-Union.

The painting has been in public view and known to have been in the Arkell collection. An image of the painting was uploaded to Wikipedia in 2015 and the painting appeared to have been a part of a 2012  "American Impressionism: Masterworks in Watercolor and Pastel" exhibition at the Arkell, newspaper records show.

But the Arkell purchase came about a year and a half after the Nazis stole the painting, along with about 200 other pieces of art, from the Mosse family. The Mosse family fled Germany in early 1933 to the United States, according to the federal filing.

The Nazi party had persecuted the Mosse family because they were Jewish, part of the Nazis' efforts at removing Jews from German economic life, the filing reads. The family was also affiliated with a newspaper critical of the Nazis.

The Nazis sold the family's collection at auction. An unknown buyer purchased "Winter," then known as "Skaters," in May 1934. It then appeared at the MacBeth Art Gallery in New York City that October. Bartlett Arkell frequently purchased paintings from the gallery and he purchased "Winter" from there in October or November 1934.

The Mosse family never received compensation for their collection. A German court in 1954 ruled the seizure by the Nazis to be non-voluntary and the Nazi legal process that seized it to be a charade, the federal filing read.

The painting remained in the Arkell collection until agents seized it 85 years later, on Sept. 10.

The painting is now in FBI custody in Albany and is expected to be formally returned to the Mosse family at a ceremony some time after the first of the year, Friedlander said they'be been told. Arkell officials hope to be present, she said.

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