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German gallery to return painting once seized



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Dusseldorf, Germany (dpa) - A public art gallery in the western German city of Dusseldorf is to hand back a 17th-century painting once in the possession of top Nazi Hermann Goering to the heirs of a Dutch Jewish art collector, sources said Thursday.

The decision marks an end to negotiations in which the Museum Kunst Palast sought to purchase from the heirs the picture by Dirck Hals (1591-1656) with the title "Card Players and Smokers".

It had belonged before the Second World War to Amsterdam art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who collected Old Masters and was killed in a shipboard accident in 1940 as he was fleeing just before the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands.

Sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa the municipality of Dusseldorf's culture committee had decided to give the painting back to the New York-based heirs.

It was among items seized by the Nazis in the Netherlands. Goering, who ran the German air force, became Hitler's deputy with the title "Marshal of the Reich" and was notorious for looting art, acquired it with 800 other Goudstikker items in a sale in Amsterdam.

The painting, done in 1626, was acquired by the city of Dusseldorf as a legacy from a German collector in 1970. Dusseldorf offered to buy the painting from the Goudstikker heirs. The sources said they appeared to be unwilling.

In recent years, German galleries have gradually been giving up "Holocaust Art" as paintings are tracked down by researchers combing through Nazi-era auction catalogues. Buyers in the Nazi period paid less than fair value for paintings.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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