"I'm very thankful to be able to show my beloved family, wherever they are, that after what they've been through, there is justice", Sulitzer said tearfully.
At a restitution ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, Two Women in a Garden (1919) was presented to Sylvie Sulitzer, a delicatessen owner from a small town near Marseilles and the granddaughter of the Parisian art collector Alfred Weinberger.
The reunion, though, will probably be short-lived.
Sulitzer's grandfather, Alfred Weinberger, was an art collector in Paris. She will likely auction off the painting to pay back compensation she previously got for missing artwork.
The mission to track down the rightful owners of the looted paintings had been aided that same year by the creation of an online database that organized all of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg task force's detailed records about the artifacts they stole, said Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. attorney of the Southern District of NY. Sulitzer said he fled the city to avoid being pressed into service by the Nazis for his art expertise.
Sylvie Sulitzer, the last remaining heir of her grandfather Alfred Weinberger, a prominent art collector in pre-war Paris, received the work from United States authorities during a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NY.
Ending a long odyssey, a Nazi-looted painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was officially returned today (12 September) in NY to the sole surviving heir of the Jewish art collector from whom it was stolen. That's when 59-year-old Sulitzer, Weinberger's granddaughter and only heir, caught wind of it. As the Nazis advanced on Paris, Weinberger was forced to flee with his family and left his collection in a bank vault in Paris for safekeeping. The painting might not stay in the family, however. "We never talked about the war at home".
But Weinberger had registered his missing property with authorities, and it was included in a database that had gone online in 2010 of looted art, based on records compiled by the Nazis themselves of what they had amassed.
One was "Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin", one of the last paintings Renoir made before he died in 1919, when his rheumatoid arthritis was so severe he had to tie the paintbrush to his hand to grip it. For a time owned by a company operating art galleries on cruise ships, it was sold in 2012 for $390,000, then put on the auction block by Christie's a year later.
The brief return still stirred strong feelings inside her. The painting didn't reemerge until 1975, when it surfaced at an art sale in Johannesburg, authorities said.
Upon hearing from Sulitzer's lawyer, Christie's withdrew the painting and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"The extraordinary journey this work of art has made around the globe ends today", said Bill Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's NY field office. In later decades, Sulitzer said she benefited from French restitution laws that compensate victims whose families' belongings were stolen during World War II.
She wished other families looking for their own lost works to be as lucky as she has been.
The painting will be on display in the gallery of the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust until September 16.
She said she was thrilled to see her grandfather's Renoir for the first time, but "for me, it's not the fact of the painting really".