A painting that was stolen during World War II and later spent decades in a US home will be returned to an art museum in Ukraine.
The FBI seized the painting after a retired couple in Connecticut transported it to Washington to be auctioned last year.
The couple, David and Gabby Tracy, had long cherished the painting but figured it was a copy, not the signed original.
The 2.2-metre by 2.6-metre painting depicts the 16th century Russian czar Ivan the Terrible looking crestfallen as he flees the Kremlin on horseback.
What a fascinating story! So is still yto be uncovered about the Nazi art theft, especially about smaller scale robberies in occupied territory like my birth country of Ukraine. The generosity of the painting’s owner’s in returning it is deeply moving. https://t.co/QfaAhASTnB
— Nana Gongadze (@NanaGongadze) December 22, 2018
It had been left behind in a Ridgefield home that David Tracy bought in 1987.
The previous couple in the home said the painting was already there when they purchased the house from a Swiss man in 1962.
When Tracy and his wife moved to a different house in the area, they paid $52,500 to add a sunroom big enough to display the painting.
“This painting was a beautiful painting, and we treasured it,” Gabby Tracy, 84, said on Saturday.
“You couldn’t help but admire the fine painting, what detail was in Ivan’s face.”
But as they made plans to move to a condominium in Maine last year, they realised the painting wouldn’t fit. They hired an auctioning company near Washington to sell the work, which was appraised at about $US5000 ($7100).
After the auction house added the painting to its catalogue, though, an employee received an urgent email from an art museum in Ukraine.
“Attention! Painting ‘Ivan the Terrible’ was in the collection of the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum until 1941 and was stolen during the Second World War,” the email said, according to court documents. “Please stop selling this painting at auction!!!”
The museum identified the painting as a 1911 work by Mikhail Panin, titled Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina.
It was a permanent exhibit at the Ukrainian museum until 1941 but disappeared during Nazi occupation of the city.
FBI officials took custody of the painting and later traced it to the Swiss man who sold the Ridgefield home in 1962.
Officials didn’t release his name but said he moved to the US in 1946 after serving in the Swiss Army. He died in 1986.
Gabby Tracy said it’s unknown how he obtained the painting.
After learning it had been stolen, the Tracy couple agreed the painting should be returned to Ukraine.
The story particularly moved Gabby, who was born in Slovakia and survived the Holocaust. Her father, Samuel Weiss, died in a concentration camp.
“There was never a question that it was going back. It’s just sad that we had to go through this experience,” Gabby said.
“It’s ironic that I should have been so worried about keeping this painting safe.”