11/04/2014 01:49 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

Hamilton gallery returns painting stolen by Nazis to Jewish family

The Art Gallery of Hamilton has agreed to return a painting that was looted by the Nazis during the Second World War to its rightful owners.

"Portrait of a Lady," a 17th century painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Verspronck, was stolen from the Salomonsohn family by Nazi authorities in 1940.

Back then, it hung in Alma Salomonsohn’s bedroom in Germany. Now, it hangs in the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The AGH bought it in 1987 for $58,000, not knowing it had been stolen from a prominent Jewish family.

After 10 years of negotiations to prove the authenticity of the Salomonsohn’s claim, the AGH will return the painting next year once the gallery’s centennial exhibition is over.

“We are grateful to the Art Gallery of Hamilton for its decision. Portrait of a Lady hung in Omi’s [Alma’s] bedroom in Berlin, and we are happy for its return,” said Sarah Solmssen, on behalf of Alma Salomonsohn’s great, great grandchildren.

“We are sad only that Omi [Alma] did not live to see her painting again,” she said. Her great great grandmother searched for the painting for years after it was taken, but never found it. She died 21 years later.

The painting was originally purchased by Salomonsohn’s husband, Arthur. He was the Chairman of the Board of the Deutsche Bank, and assembled an important collection of art. After it was pilfered by the Nazis, it was sold at auction in 1941.

The painting was eventually donated to the AGH by the AGH Volunteer Committee, after it was purchased at the Sotheby’s sale of Important Old Master Paintings in New York City in June 1987.

After she died, Salomonsohn’s family took up the charge to find the painting, and enlisted a law firm that specializes in finding Nazi-confiscated works to help them track it down.

In 2003, that law firm notified the AGH that they believed "Portrait of a Lady" had been stolen. After years of negotiations, the gallery is sending it back to its rightful owners.

“The Art Gallery of Hamilton is the guardian of one of the finest permanent collections in Canada and Portrait of a Lady holds a very special place in it,” said Louise Dompierre, the AGH’s president and CEO.  

She also cited the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art as guiding the gallery’s decision – which was a catalyst to recover pieces of Nazi-looted art from all over the world. Canada was a signatory at the conference.

“It is a great pleasure to return the painting to those whom we believe, to the best of our knowledge, are its rightful owners.”