Missing Since World War II, Painting Repatriated to Bavarian Museum
From left: FBI Chicago Special Agent Benjamin Milligan; FBI Chicago Special Agent Timothy O’Brien; Assistant Section Chief and Supervisory Special Agent Clifford Swindell of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division; FBI Chicago Special Agent David White; FBI Chicago Assistant Special Agent in Charge Eric Shiffman; German Consul General Michael Ahrens; Dr. Bernd Ebert, head of the Dutch and German Baroque Painting Collections at the Alte Pinakothek museum; and German Consul Jan Münch pose for a photo during an October 19, 2023, art repatriation at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago.
The FBI’s Art Crime Team in Chicago today returned the painting "Landschaft italienischen Charakters" (or "Landscape of Italian Character") by the Austrian painter Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer (1700–1733), to its rightful owner.
In a ceremony held at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago, Ill., the FBI and its international partners gathered to celebrate the repatriation of the painting to the Bavarian State Painting Collections – Alte Pinakothek museum.
Missing for over 70 years, since the start of World War II in 1939, Lauterer’s “Landscape of Italian Character” resurfaced in the U.S. in 2011. The painting had ended up in the possession of a Chicago area WWII veteran’s descendants and was offered for purchase to the Bavarian museum. However, all attempts to negotiate its safe return were unsuccessful and the painting was again lost without a trace, until 2022.
Upon the veteran’s passing, the painting came into the possession of its most recent owner, a Chicago citizen.
At left: Dr. Bernd Ebert, head of the Dutch and German Baroque Painting Collections at the Alte Pinakothek museum, adjusts the painting entitled "Landschaft italienischen Charakters" (or "Landscape of Italian Character") on an easel at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago on October 19, 2023. At top right, FBI Chicago Special Agent Timothy O’Brien, FBI Chicago Special Agent David White, Dr. Ebert, and FBI Chicago Special Agent Benjamin Milligan take part in the repatriation ceremony. At bottom right, FBI Chicago Assistant Special Agent in Charge Eric Shiffman, German Consul General Michael Ahrens, Dr. Ebert, and Special Agent Milligan examine the painting.
Robert W. Wheeler Jr., special agent in Charge of the FBI Chicago Field Office: “The FBI’s Art Crime Team has been bringing home stolen art for almost 20 years, and their dedication has led to the recovery of more than 20,000 artifacts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a pleasure to be able to return this painting to its rightful home at last, and we thank everyone who partnered with us to make this success possible."
Michael Ahrens, consul general: "The Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Chicago was happy to facilitate the exchange between FBI Chicago and Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen / Bavarian State Painting Collections, when it learnt about the restitution project. It is an honor to receive representatives from the FBI’s Art Crime Team and Bavarian State Painting Collections here in the German Consulate today on the occasion of the official handover of the painting."
Markus Blume, the Bavarian State Minister for Science and Arts: "I am delighted that an art treasure that was believed to have been lost is coming back to Bavaria: the return of the painting by Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen is not only an act of historical justice but also an expression of the appreciation of our cultural heritage. In particular, I would like to thank the American FBI and all those who participated in the return of the painting on the American and German sides."
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Maaz, director general of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen: "First of all, I would like to thank the FBI for their tremendous support. I am very grateful for the work carried out by the law firms, especially Christopher Marinello, for his altruistic commitment and research to identify and restitute the work. The entire process owes much to his so very selfless, independent initiative and we are extremely pleased with the outcome. Further thanks are due to the German Foreign Office and to the Consulate General in Chicago, in particular, where this long story has found a happy end."
Dr. Bernd Ebert, head of the Dutch and German Baroque Painting Collections: "The reuniting of Lauterer’s complementary landscapes is a real stroke of good fortune. A presentation of the restored companion works is planned for the near future."
Christopher A. Marinello, CEO and founder of Art Recovery International: "This restitution would not have been possible without the swift action of the FBI Art Crime Team."
.FBI Art Crime Team
The FBI’s Art Crime Team, made up of special agents from across the country, was established in 2004 after the 2003 looting of the Iraqi National Museum. Conflict zones (i.e., war zones) have a large impact on cultural property; they breed environments that make it easy to lose cultural property. It’s the FBI’s mission to recover those works. The team assists in art-related investigations worldwide in cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials and FBI legal attaché offices.
Art and cultural property crime—which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines—leads to billions of dollars in losses every year. The FBI relies on the good will of our citizens to assist us by keeping their eyes open for missing art. If you have information on a piece in the National Stolen Art File, we encourage you to submit a tip to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.
The Painter and His Work
Johann Franz Nepomuk Adam Lauterer (1700–1733) was active in his native city of Vienna between about 1715 and 1733. "Landscape of Italian Character" is a counterpart to a painting on panel of the same dimensions with complementary motifs, depicting a landscape with travelers and shepherds at a ford in a river. Both paintings together form a broad panoramic landscape.
Landschaft italienischen Charakters" (Landscape of Italian Character) by the Austrian painter Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer