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Matisse painting stolen by Nazis returned to original owner's family

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More than seven decades after it was looted by the Nazis, a painting worth millions was returned to the family of the art dealer it was taken from through a Norwegian museum that had acquired it.

On Friday, the heirs of Paul Rosenberg reclaimed the painting, which had been in the possession of Noway's Henie Onstad Art Centre since 1968. The painting, Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace, is a work by Henri Matisse done in 1937. It estimated to be worth around $20 million.

The Henie Onstad Art Centre did in fact acquire the painting in good faith, but its history prior to that is more nefarious. Rosenberg, a prominent Jewish art dealer who represented artists like Matisse and Picasso, first bought the painting and left it in his native France upon leaving in 1940 to avoid persecution by the Nazis.

Over 160 items in Rosenberg's collection were taken by the Nazi task force known as Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg. The Rosenberg here refers to Nazi Party leader Alfred Rosenberg, who led the force and was later executed after the Nuremberg Trials.

Over 6,000 items stolen by the group were found at Neuschwanstein Castle by the Monuments Men, who were recently portrayed in the recent George Clooney film of the same name. Estimates indicate that around 650,000 pieces of art and religious items were taken by the Nazis.

The painting then fell into the possession of art dealer Gustav Rochlitz, who was convicted for selling Nazi-looted art in 1947, and then a Paris art gallery unaware of the painting's back story. In 1950, the gallery sold it to Niels Onstad and his wife, famous figure skater Sonia Henie, and the two later put it in their museum.

The Norwegian gallery says it decided to return the painting to the rightful owner by adhering to "international conventions" following a great deal of research to authenticate its origins. Research knowledge and resources acquired by the Henie Onstad Art Centre will reportedly be available to the public "though a variety of exhibitions, seminars and publications" next year.