"Saint Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki" by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz, pictured next to a Homeland Security frisbee. Photo courtesy Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HSI and Manhattan US attorney return Nazi-German looted painting to Poland

NEW YORK – More than seven decades after being stolen by the Nazis, the “Saint Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki” by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz is back in the hands of the people of Poland.

At a ceremony today at the Polish Consulate in New York, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, returned the painting to Poland Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski.

Shortly before his death in 1768, Seekatz created the painting. In December 1879, the National Museum in Warsaw received the painting from the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. In 1909, the Warsaw museum had the painting erroneously identified and listed as “St. Phillip Baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Dutch painter J.C. Saft.

In September 1939, during World War II, German forces invaded and occupied Warsaw. Between 1939 and 1945, they looted in Poland numerous works of art including the painting from the National Museum in Warsaw.

In June 2008, HSI New York special agents were notified by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland that several national treasures of their cultural heritage looted during World War II were being offered for sale in the United States.

HSI New York agents met with Polish officials who provided supporting documentation to assist in the identification and recovery of the looted Polish work of art. HSI agents initiated an investigation and identified that the painting came into the possession of Doyle New York Auctioneers and Appraisers in about October 2006 and was sold under its erroneous name for approximately $24,000 to Rafael Valls Gallery in London.

An expert from the National Museum in Warsaw, delegated by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, examined the painting in London with the full cooperation of the Rafael Valls Gallery and it was determined to be the same painting that was looted from Warsaw in 1944. In April 2012, HSI received an evaluation of the painting from the Ministry that the painting was identified as its true name and artist. Polish officials confirmed it was the same painting previously attributed to the artist J.C. Saft and registered as a Polish wartime loss of the National Museum in Warsaw in on-line database that the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage runs.