Painting stolen in second world war heading from US back to Ukraine

  • Connecticut couple had the piece in their home for years and thought it was a fake but cherished it anyway, spending US$37,000 on an extension to house it
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 7:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 9:13pm

A painting that was stolen during the second world war then spent decades in an American home will be returned to an art museum in Ukraine.

Standing nearly 2.4 metres (eight feet) tall, the painting shows 16th century Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible fleeing the Kremlin on horseback. It had been left in a Ridgefield home that David Tracy bought in 1987.

David and his wife Gabby thought it was a copy. The previous owners said the painting was already there when they bought the house from a Swiss man in 1962.

When Tracy and his wife moved, they paid US$37,000 to add a sunroom big enough to display the painting.

“This painting was a beautiful painting, and we treasured it,” said 84-year-old Gabby Tracy.

But as they planned a move to a condominium in Maine last year, they realised it would not fit so were going to auction it for about US$5,000.

After the auction house added the painting to its catalogue, it received an email from an art museum in Ukraine.

“Attention! Painting Ivan the Terrible was in the collection of the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum until 1941 and was stolen during the second world war,” the email said, according to court documents. “Please stop selling this painting at auction!!!”

The museum said it was Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina, a 1911 work by Mikhail Panin. It disappeared during the German occupation.

FBI officials took custody of the painting and later traced it to the Swiss man who sold the Ridgefield home in 1962. Officials did not release his name but said he moved to the US in 1946 after serving in the Swiss Army. He died in 1986. Gabby Tracy said it’s unknown how he obtained the painting.

After learning it had been stolen, the Tracy couple agreed the painting should be returned to Ukraine.

Federal officials filed paperwork Thursday formally passing the painting from the FBI to the US District Attorney’s Office in Washington, which is turning it over to Ukraine’s embassy.

“The looting of cultural heritage during world war two was tragic and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners,” US lawyer Jessie Liu said on Friday.

Officials at Ukraine’s embassy thanked the Tracy couple and US officials who helped recover the painting. A statement from spokeswoman Natalia Solyeva said it’s the first time the two nations have worked together to recover stolen cultural goods.