Louvre’s Art Detective Hunts for Looted Paintings


Polack had made a reputation abroad as a member of the international task force in Germany. Discovery of approximately 1,500 artifacts brought by squirrel by Cornelius Gurlitthis father, Hildebrand, bought artwork for Hitler.

While working for the task force, Dorville uncovered the key to his story. He looked behind a portrait of the Impressionist painter Jean-Louis Forain and discovered a yellowed label with an item number from the auction catalog in Nice. It read “CABINET d’un AMATEUR PARISIEN” with no other information about the identity of the seller.

Curious, he went to the city and uncovered in the public archives sales catalogs, auction records, documents proving the identity of the seller and the involvement of the Vichy government’s Commissariat for Jewish Affairs. Working with a genealogy firm, Dorville found and befriended his heirs.

“His tenacity, his combativeness is incredible,” said Philippe Dagen, art historian and critic for the newspaper Le Monde, who wrote a book on looted art with Polack.

Le Point magazine describes him as the “Indiana Jones of Looted Paintings.”

Nearly eighty years after the auction, the results of the sale in Nice continue to haunt France, pitting the French government against Dorville’s heirs, reviving the ugly history of the Louvre’s involvement in a troubled sale, and putting Polack in an uncomfortable position.

Dorville’s heirs claim that the sale of artworks was enforced under wartime anti-Jewish laws, making it an illegal act of “looting” or looting. They argue that if the government had given them the proceeds from the auction, perhaps the five family members who died at Auschwitz would have found a way to survive.


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