An American soldier stole a 300-year-old painting during World War II. It made an unusual journey back to Germany.

  • A stolen painting was returned to Germany after going missing for more than 78 years.

  • The FBI recovered the painting after a company enlisted their help in retrieving it from a Chicago resident.

  • Someone had previously tried to sell the painting in the Chicago art market in 2011.

A stolen painting belonging to Germany made an unusual journey home on Thursday after going missing for more than 78 years, according to the FBI.

The FBI returned the painting to a representative of the Alte Pinakothek museum at the German consulate in Chicago. The artwork was first reported as stolen from the Bavarian State Paintings Collections in Munich in 1945.

It turned out to be the “Landscape of Italian Character” — a painting by the Vienna-born artist Johann Franz Nepomuk Lauterer. The Art Newspaper reported that the painting was created in the early 18th century, making it more than 300 years old now. The artwork’s value has not been publicly evaluated by experts.

Art Recovery International, based in Italy, helped recover the item after a Chicago resident informed the company their uncle owned a stolen painting, the company’s founder, Christopher Marinello, told Insider. The resident’s uncle, who has since died, obtained the artwork after serving in World War II, Marinello said.

The person, who has not been identified in reports, tipped off Marinello in December 2022, The Art Newspaper reported. Marinello told Insider the person asked his company for a “finder’s fee” in exchange for the artwork.

“We do not pay money to possessors of stolen art to do the right thing, especially given the circumstances of how this artwork came into the family’s possession,” Marinello said. He then enlisted the FBI’s art-crime team for help retrieving the painting.

Marinello told Insider an individual — whom he believed was the same person who tipped him off about the stolen painting — had previously tried to sell it in the Chicago art market in 2011.

“When told it was stolen property, he withdrew and disappeared,” Marinello said. Insider could not independently verify this information.

Alte Pinakothek and researchers at Art Recovery International verified the painting as being Lauterer’s original artwork in 2022, Marinello told Insider. The museum said in a press release it would be displayed at the Alte Pinakothek alongside another painting by Lauterer featuring similar motifs of the Italian countryside.

It’s not the first time a stolen painting has been recovered from US soldiers who served in World War II. In 2015, the FBI recovered three artworks stolen by US soldiers from a German museum in Dessau, a city in central Germany.

The FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent outside regular office hours.

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