After years of secret negotiations, five Old Master works stolen over 40 years ago have been returned to Germany. The 1979 theft of the works shocked the city of Gotha, located in what was at the time East Germany. The five works include a portrait of Saint Catherine by Hans Holbein the Elder
from 1510; a 1535 Frans Hals
portrait; a depiction of a country road attributed to the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder
; a copy of an Anthony van Dyck
self-portrait by one of his contemporaries; and a 17th-century portrait attributed to Ferdinand Bol
The saga of the works’ return began in 2018, when Gotha mayor Knut Kreuch started receiving phone calls about the long-lost works. Those calls eventually led to covert negotiations with a lawyer claiming to represent the inheritors of the stolen paintings. Martin Hoernes, who works for the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, a frequent sponsor of museum acquisitions, helped secure the paintings and take them to Berlin to verify their authenticity.
Kreuch and Hoernes managed to get the paintings back for a mere €50,000 ($55,000)—a far cry from their insurance valuation at €4 million ($4.4 million) and the lawyer’s asking price of €5.25 million ($5.8 million). Hoernes stressed that the €50,000 fee covered legal costs, research, and transportation, and the paintings were secured without a ransom.