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Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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Art Museum reaches agreement on painting sold during World War II era

The Art Museum at Princeton University has reached an agreement with the heirs of the Nazi-era owner of St. Bartholomew , an Italian Renaissance painting by Bernardino Pinturicchio. The agreement with the heirs of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe ensures that the museum will retain and display the painting, which has been in its collection since 1994.

The painting was acquired by The Art Museum from French and Co., a reputable art gallery in New York City. Since its acquisition, the painting has been on public display in the museum and featured in museum publications.

Gentili di Giuseppe was a Jewish resident of France who died of natural causes in 1940. In 1941, his art collection was sold at a public auction in Paris under the order of a French court in German-occupied France.

In 1998, the Gentili di Giuseppe heirs brought legal action in France against the Musei du Louvre and the State of France to have the April 1941 auction sale declared null and void. On June 2, 1999, the Court of Appeals of Paris declared the sale of five paintings in the April 1941 auction null and void. The French court held that the then-living descendants of the late Gentili di Giuseppe had been prevented from attending to the administration of the estate due to the German occupation of France.

After resolution by the French court, The Art Museum and the heirs of Gentili di Giuseppe began discussions about Pinturicchio's St. Bartholemew, which came from the Gentili di Giuseppe collection but was not one of the five paintings adjudicated by the French court.

From the outset of those discussions, the heirs acknowledged that The Art Museum acquired the work in good faith, and they expressed a strong desire to leave the painting in the collection for scholars and the public to enjoy. To determine the value of the painting, the museum and the heirs commissioned independent art appraisals, and the museum agreed to compensate the heirs for the agreed-upon value. French and Co. generously participated in the compensation agreement between the museum and the heirs.

Pinturicchio (c. 1454-1513), a native of Perugia, Italy, collaborated with Perugino (Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci) in 1481-2 in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and quickly established his reputation as a painter of distinctive and picturesque decorative cycles. His most important commissions included the decoration of the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Palace in Rome for Pope Alexander VI and the large fresco cycle in the library of Siena Cathedral depicting the Life of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini.

"Pinturicchio's Saint Bartholomew foreshadows the High Renaissance," said Betsy Rosasco, associate curator of later Western art at The Art Museum. "Pinturicchio comes very close here to the young Raphael, who was a student of Perugino, the major master in Perugia, Italy, and an artist with whom Pinturicchio collaborated. The painting dates from a critical moment in Central Italian art, and is a perfect work for a teaching museum."

Federico Gentili di Giuseppe's prior ownership of the Pinturicchio painting will be acknowledged by The Art Museum, which will continue to display the painting in the Renaissance galleries.

"The Princeton University Art Museum is fully committed to the responsible resolution of ownership claims concerning World War II-era cultural property," said Susan M. Taylor, director of The Art Museum.

"We are delighted that this great painting by Pinturicchio will remain available to the museum's public for its enjoyment and education, and we are profoundly grateful to the Gentili di Giuseppe heirs and to French and Co. for working so diligently with us to reach a just and amicable conclusion to this matter," she said.

In the 1980s, The Art Museum registered its European old master paintings with The Getty Provenance Index, a project of the Getty Research Institute, which accumulates and disseminates information related to the history of collecting and the provenance of individual works of art. Maintaining a Web site and several electronic databases as well as non-automated material on the history of ownership of works of art (primarily European paintings) gathered from sales catalogues, archival records, and museum files, the Getty Provenance Index provides scholars and museum curators with important information about the history of collecting.

To ascertain past ownership of works of art, The Art Museum has created a curatorial fellowship for provenance research of European art in its collection. The information will be posted on the museum's Web site, http://webware.Princeton.EDU/artmus/ .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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