Paintings from East Germany
Three historic paintings won by an American tank commander during the war were returned to the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau collection in East Germany.
AT A GLANCE...
Frans Francken III
The Prodigal Son
Oil on copper
Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich
Rocky Landscape with Trees and Water in the Foreground
Oil on panel
Franz de Paula Ferg
Landscape with Staffage
Oil on panel
Circumstances of Loss:
The paintings were won at a poker game by a U.S. soldier who served in the 750th Tank Battalion.
The paintings were handed over to the German Embassy in May 2015 during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department and returned to the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau a few weeks later.
Discovery and Research
In the summer of 2014 the Foundation received a call from James Hetherington who stated that he had several paintings that had been in Europe during the war. Mr. Hetherington had recently learned of the Monuments Men Foundation after seeing information provided at the end of The Monuments Men film. Hetherington's step-father, Major William Oftebro, a World War II officer who died many years ago, mailed the paintings home to his wife, James' mother, after the war. Major Oftebro served in the 750th Tank Battalion and received the Bronze Star on April 28, 1945. He informed his family that he had won the paintings in a poker game. After several interviews Mr. Hetherington brought the paintings to the office of the Foundation for examination.
Determining the rightful owner proved straightforward: all three paintings preserved museum labels and identifying marks of the Joachim-Ernst-Stiftung, a German Foundation whose art collections had been placed on loan to museums and historic houses in and around the city of Dessau. That collection is now part of the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau collection.
These paintings were inventory numbers 57, 205 and 273 and were stored since 30 August 1943 together with other artistic treasures from the Gemäldegalerie in a potassium mine called Solvayhall near Bernburg (Anhalt). They were in crate no. 31 in which a total of 16 paintings were packed. All 16 paintings from this crate are part of our war losses.
The paintings were handed over to the German Embassy in May 2015 during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department and returned to the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau a few weeks later. They are the only three paintings of the many missing since the end of WWII to have made their return to the city of Dessau.
Dr. Norbert Michels, Director of the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Schloss Georgium in Dessau commented about the return of the paintings by Frans Francken III, Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich and Franz de Paula Ferg: “It is with great joy that we welcome these paintings back to our collection and we are very thankful to the Monuments Men Foundation for their important work”.
Peter Kuras, the Mayor of Dessau stated: “Thanks to such fortunate circumstances, three important paintings can be returned to the Anhaltische Gemaldegalerie Dessau. It is not just a question of luck however. All art-loving citizens of the city of Dessau extend their gratitude to the Monuments Men Foundation whose persistence and diligence has led to the rightful return of artworks misplaced during times of conflict and war. Presumably also, George Clooney’s film The Monuments Men, filmed in Saxony-Anhalt, the federal state of where Dessau is located, brought the issue to public attention. It is always a pleasure when film and real life events come together in an enlightening way.”