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American gets art back; they were lost to Nazis during the war

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

PARIS — Tom Selldorff was 6 when he saw his grandfather's prized art collection for the last time in 1930s Vienna, before it fell into Nazi hands.

Now he's 84. And in a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, the American was finally given back a piece of his late grandfather's memory: France has returned six of his stolen family masterpieces.

The restitution of the works — including paintings by Alessandro Longhi and Sebastiano Ricci — is part of France's ongoing effort to return hundreds of looted artworks that Jewish owners lost during the war that still hang in the Louvre and other museums. The move ends years of struggle for Selldorff, whose claims were validated by the French government last year after years of researching the fates of the works.

“I'm extremely grateful and very moved,” said Selldorff, who flew in from Boston for the event at France's Culture Ministry, where the oil paintings were on temporary display. “These paintings were in this fog of war. The restitution ... was not easy. It took a long time.”

The artworks were stolen or sold under duress about seven decades ago as Jewish industrialist and art collector Richard Neumann — Selldorff's grandfather — and his family fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The collection — whose original size is unknown — was his ticket out, though he sold it for a fraction of its value.

“I only wish my grandfather was here to be able to be a part of all this, but I am sure he is watching from somewhere upstairs, so that's fine,” Selldorff said.

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