Veteran Russian officer returns 14m pounds art works

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The Independent Online
A FORMER Red Army officer, said to be ailing and guilt-ridden, has handed over a cache of masterpieces by Durer, Delacroix and Goya stolen from a German castle during the Second World War.

A total of 101 Old Master drawings and prints, worth up to dollars 20m ( pounds 14m), have been returned to the cultural attache at the German Embassy in Moscow, according to ARTnews magazine.

For decades, the former officer had hidden the works under a sofa in his one-room flat in a provincial Russian city. He insists on remaining anonymous. Sylvia Hochfield, of ARTnews, said: 'It is amazing that they were kept together. He never tried to sell them.'

The works, which include drawings by Veronese, Watteau and Manet, and lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec, were part of a collection of 50 paintings, 1,715 drawings and 3,000 prints belonging to the Bremen Kunstverein. They were removed from the cellar of Karnzow Castle, near Kyritz, where they were being stored during the war.

The 101 works were tracked down by two art historians, Konstantin Akinsha, based at a branch of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and a correspondent of ARTnews, and Grigorii Kozlov, at the Museum of Western and Oriental Art in Kiev. A further 362 drawings, from the same collection, have yet to be returned.

According to Ms Hochfield, the two historians have located a further 50 works from the Bremen collection: 'Some are in museums, some in the private collections of people who are not about to give them back.' She added that works in museums will have to go through official channels. 'It may take years before anything is done.' The rest of the Bremen collection is still missing.

An 'enthusiastic but naive' art lover paid pounds 140,000 for two works by the Spanish painter Sotomayor after a Christie's expert in London said that they were of an exceptional quality and could achieve world record prices, the High Court was told yesterday. But the two paintings failed to sell and caused Margarita 'Maggie' Bollaert, an Argentinian who took out loans to acquire them, large financial losses.

Ms Bollaert, 34, is claiming damages of pounds 100,000 against Christie's, plus 'substantial' interest. Her counsel, Peter Leighton, said that in February 1990, Ms Bollaert paid pounds 95,000 for Milking Time after being told by Martin Beisly of Christie's that it would fetch between pounds 200,000 and pounds 250,000 at auction. She also paid pounds 45,000 for A Sunlit Street, Bruges after being told it would fetch between pounds 100,000 and pounds 150,000.

Later, she acquired written valuations to obtain loans to buy the pictures which put them respectively in the pounds 150,000 to pounds 200,000 and pounds 70,000 to pounds 100,000 brackets. But at an auction in March 1990 no bids were received for either work and their current valuations were as low as pounds 20,000- pounds 25,000 and pounds 15,000- pounds 20,000.

The hearing continues today.