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Museum returns stolen painting, ‘The Studio of Thomas Couture,’ to heirs

“If the work of art does not belong to the museum rightfully then, in our opinion, the only thing to do is to return it to its rightful owners,” said Katie Ziglar, director of the Ackland Art Museum in North Carolina.

The Ackland Art Museum on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Photo by Anna Routh Barzin.
The Ackland Art Museum on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Photo by Anna Routh Barzin.

The Ackland Art Museum on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has returned a work from the stolen art collection of Armand Isaac Dorville, passing it back to the Jewish art collector’s heirs.

The formal ceremony took place on Jan. 16, when Dorville family heir Raphaël Falk flew in to retrieve the work. Dorville’s family had been forced to auction off his collection in 1942, following the patriarch’s death in 1941, to allow their escape from Nazi persecution in France. 

Instead, the money raised from the auction was seized by Vichy France, and as a result, many family members were sent to concentration camps, where they perished.

“It is incumbent upon the museum to make sure that the claim is valid. But once that information is carefully considered, then a resolution can come about. And if the work of art does not belong to the museum rightfully then, in our opinion, the only thing to do is to return it to its rightful owners,” said Katie Ziglar, director of the Ackland Art Museum.

“Though we are sad to see this painting leaving the museum’s collection, the Ackland recognizes the historical injustice suffered by the Dorville family and its heirs by the crimes committed during the Nazi era,” said Dana Cowen, the Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950. “Through the restitution of this work, we express our continued commitment to rectify such injustices of the past.”

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