Czech museums return Nazi-looted art to Jewish owner's descendants

A Jewish businessman from Brno gave four paintings to the National Gallery Prague in an effort to be allowed to emigrate during World War II. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 15.02.2023 10:22:00 (updated on 15.02.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Czech state returned 14 artifacts to descendants of a Czech Jewish industrialist that had been confiscated during World War II.

Representatives of Czech Jewish industrialist Johann Bloch’s family in the U.S. contacted Czech agencies involved in restitution in February 2020 concerning the items.

Four paintings from the late 18th century and early 19th century were released by the National Gallery Prague and 10 liturgical vestments by the Museum of Decorative Arts (UPM) in Prague.

These were returned yesterday to Anne Claire von Huene and Cheryl Bernstein, the great-granddaughters of Czech Jewish industrialist Johann Bloch.

Two paintings are a view of a sea bay by an unknown north Italian painter, one painting is a landscape by Czech artist Antonín Mánes, and the last is a picture of a young man with a fur cap by an unknown artist who may have worked in Vienna in the first half of the 19th century.

“Not only has this cooperation resulted in the restitution of pieces from our family’s stolen art collection, but it has brought members of the Bloch family together while bringing our shared history into focus,” Bloch’s heirs said in a statement.

Bloch, who was born in Brno in 1869, owned a leather goods factory. He assembled a large collection of paintings, statues, furniture, textiles, and antiquities.

Art 'donated' to Czech institutions under pressure

After the March 1939 occupation of Bohemia, his business was confiscated. To be allowed to emigrate along with his wife, Bloch had to pass his property to a bank. In the spring of 1940, Bloch and his wife asked for a permit to emigrate to Switzerland.

The National Gallery recommended granting a permit if Bloch donated four paintings to its collections. He did so, but Bloch then died from a heart condition in December 1940. In 1942, his wife Erna was deported to Riga where she died in August 1942.

The vestments were given to the Museum of Decorative Arts for safekeeping by one of Bloch’s daughters when she emigrated to the U.K. in 1939. The rest of the Bloch collection has never been found.

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