The large painting, Still Life With Hare (circa 1650) by Baroque artist Pier Francesco Cittadini, entered the royal collections of Saxony in 1741 and was stored near Meissen at Schloss Barnitz during World War II. It is believed to have been among a trove of works looted from the palace at the end of the war by the Red Army, which took it back to the Soviet Union. It ended up in a private collection in the city of Kutaisi in western Georgia. Last week, it was returned to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze during a ceremony in Tbilisi, her first stop on a tour of the South Caucasus states. It will enter the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister in Dresden, which owns two other works by Cittadini.
“This return of this war loss is of great significance because still lifes by Italian artists are a rarity in our collection,” Stephan Koja, the museum’s director, told The Art Newspaper.
The Red Army’s so-called trophy brigades brought some 2.5 million artifacts from eastern Germany to the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II. About 1.5 million of those objects were returned in 1958. However, in the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s stance on repatriation has shifted, and in 1998 it passed a law declaring such artifacts to be Russian property. Georgia, conversely, has taken steps to repatriate Soviet-looted artifacts, like the Cittadini still life, to Germany.