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Descendants of prominent Dutch banking family try to reclaim art

February 26, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Descendants of a Dutch couple who died in the Holocaust are suing Sotheby’s auction gallery to reclaim a valuable Renoir they say was stolen from them by Nazis during World War II.

The painting is a 17 1/4 inch by 14 1/2 inch oil known in French as ``Le Poirier″ or ``Le Pommier,″ and in English as ``Appletree in Bloom.″ It is easily worth $1 million, according to Thomas Kline, the family’s lawyer.

Kline sent Sotheby’s nearly 30 documents, including sales and ownership papers, to prove the paintings once belonged to Friedrich and Louise Gutmann of Heemstede, Holland. He said he has not heard back from the auction house.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court, Kline said the Gutmanns bought the painting in 1928, and mailed it and two other paintings in 1938 to an antique dealer in Paris for safekeeping.

The Gutmanns later died in concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The couple’s two children, Bernard Goodman and Lili Gutmann, tried to find the paintings after the war and learned they were stolen by the ``Einsatzstab Rosenberg″ _ ``the Rosenberg Action Team″ _ whose job was to steal art from Jewish families in Nazi occupied areas.

In April 1969, Sotheby’s predecessor, Park-Bernet Galleries Inc., offered ``Le Poirier″ for sale on behalf of the estate of Madame Lucienne Fribourg and the Fribourg Foundation. Sotheby’s has refused to disclose who bought the painting, Kline said.

Sotheby’s lawyer, Matthew Weigman, said Sotheby’s had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Kline wants the painting back for Ms. Gutmann, who lives in Italy, and Goodman’s two sons. Goodman died in 1994.

The family also is fighting to reclaim another Impressionist Painting, Degas’ ``Landscape with Smokestacks.″ It was sold for $850,000 in 1987 to drug company heir David Searle, and now hangs in the Chicago Art Institute.

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