German auctioneer halts sale of painting stolen from Polish museum

The picture was stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw on June 14, 1984. It had been bought by the museum in 1982. Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

A German auction house has suspended the sale of a painting stolen from a Warsaw museum following protests from Poland.

Wassily Kandinsky’s 'Ohne Titel – Lot 31' was stolen from the National Museum in the Polish capital in 1984.

The water-colour had been sold on Thursday at the Grisebach auction house for EUR 310,000 despite the Polish authorities providing ample evidence that it was stolen property.

But on Friday the auction house told PAP that it had moved to stop the transaction, although it also said that the painting's providence had had been "scrupulously investigated" before it went up for sale.

Grisebach added that it was informed about the picture's theft from Poland shortly before it went up for auction, but inquiries into its legal status showed there were no obstacles to its sale.

The house said the sale was now suspended until further rulings in the matter.

Under German law after 30 years a stolen item becomes the property of its current owner.

Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister, said on Friday that the sale should not have gone ahead.

The fate of stolen Polish art is a particularly sensitive subject in Poland given the mass looting that took place when Poland was under German occupation during the war.