Stolen painting should never have been sold says foreign minister

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.

Poland’s foreign minister has said that the sale in Germany of a painting stolen from Warsaw’s National Museum should never have taken place.

The auctioning of Wassily Kandinsky's watercolour 'Ohne Titel – Lot 31', which fetched EUR 310,000 on Thursday, has been widely condemned in Poland.

The painting was taken from the museum in 1984 but under German law after 30 years a stolen item becomes the property of its current owner. The Polish authorities had provided ample evidence of the paintings providence but auction still went 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.

Speaking on Friday, Zbigniew Rau, the foreign minister, said the auction "should never have taken place," and had created "an uncomfortable situation" for both countries.

"Even if legal regulations invalidate Poland's rights to a work of art that has been acquired through illegal means, (The German side - PAP) should have taken legislative, or even political steps to prevent this situation, which is uncomfortable for both sides," Rau said.

As further evidence of Polish anger over the sale, Piotr Gliński, the culture minister, said that Poland planned to contest the picture's sale, and accused the German auctioneers of "behaving indecently".

"The auctioneers were aware that the picture had been stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw... but they behaved indecently, although in full accordance with German law, as their statute of limitations comes in after 30 years," Gliński said.

"Poland will contest this as European directives say stolen art works cannot be traded," he added.

Later on Friday Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, said that the sale of the painting has been suspended until the issue is legally settled. Deutsche Welle added that the Grisebach auction house, which held the sale, had ignored Poland's earlier objections to the sale.