The painting — “Palace Stairs” by Venetian artist Francesco Guardi — was taken from the National Museum in Warsaw in 1939, shortly after Germany invaded Poland. The small painting depicts noblemen talking at the grand stairs of Venice’s Doge Palace.
After World War II, the painting went to the University of Heidelberg and then to the State Gallery of Baden-Wuerttemberg before it was recognized as belonging to Poland in the late 1990s. But political differences between Warsaw and Berlin over how to handle the broader issue of art lost during the war prevented a deal from being reached sooner.
“This painting has been on a long odyssey,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a handover ceremony with his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski in Berlin. “(It represents) the difficult history that connects our two countries.”
Poland is still searching for thousands of artifacts looted from its museums and private collections during the war, although many items are believed to have been destroyed by the Nazis.
Steinmeier said he hoped Monday’s handover “should also be a signal to restart the stalled German-Polish dialogue on cultural artifacts.”
Germany has long sought the return of some 300,000 books, drawings and manuscripts — known as the Berlinka collection — from Poland.
The collection includes handwritten musical scores by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach that the Nazis transported eastward to keep them safe from bombing during World War II. Abandoned by retreating German troops in what is now Poland, many of the items are now held by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.