Pierre Vasic (left), son of the family who owned the painting ‘Jeune Fille a la Robe Bleue’ painted in 1932 by Belgian artist, Antoine (Anto) Carte was present at the ceremony where U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman (center), and Belgian Minister of Economics, Vincent Van Quickenborne (right), unveiled the painting. Photo: EFE/Benoit Doppagne.
A portrait of a child with her pet rabbit by Belgian artist, Antoine (Anto) Carte that was looted by the Nazis during the Belgian Occupation has been returned to its owner after it was located it in the hands of an art dealer from Long Island, USA. ‘Jeune Fille a la Robe Bleue’ (1932) was the centrepiece of a hand-over ceremony at the Jewish Museum of Belgium on 1 December 2009.
The Jewish child in the portrait fled Brussels with her family during the Nazi Occupation and survived the war hiding in the Belgian countryside. The family’s abandoned apartment in Ohain was looted in 1944 and five oil paintings, including the Anto Carte portrait, disappeared. In 1946, the family filed a claim for their missing paintings at the Belgian office for looted art and the portrait was listed in the Répertoire d’oeuvres d’art dont la Belgique a été spoliée durant la guerre 1939-1945, a publication of Belgian war losses.
In 2008, the painting was traced to a Long Island gallery owned by Andre Sakhai, the son of notorious dealer Ely Sakhai. The Belgian Commission for Restitution Matters was contacted to verify the discovery. Although the missing Carte portrait was not illustrated in the ‘Répertoire d’oeuvres d’art dont la Belgique a été spoliée durant la guerre 1939-1945’, a black and white photograph of a child was provide by Belgian authorities and the similarity to the discovered portrait was unmistakeable.
Attorney Christopher A. Marinello, acting on behalf of the victim pro-bono, enlisted the help of Bonnie W. Goldblatt, senior special agent with the US Department of Homeland Security, Art & Antiquities Recovery Unit (ICE). Mr Sakhai was informed that the picture had been confiscated by the Nazis and that it was listed as an official war loss. Marinello negotiated a release of the painting from Sakhai and the Anto Carte was returned to the theft victim in Brussels. The victim, now in her 80’s was once again able to see Carte’s portrait of her as a little girl.