On a stormy December night in 1979, five valuable Old Master paintings were stolen from Schloss Friedenstein, which returned to Gotha more than 40 years later in 2020.
The stolen paintings included a portrait by Frans Hals, a painting by Hans Holbein the Elder, a work once believed to be by Jan Lievens but which is now attributed to Ferdinand Bol (and most recently has been thought to be by Rembrandt himself), and a landscape from the workshop of Jan Brueghel the Elder. The fifth painting is a copy after a self-portrait by Van Dyck.
Based on this spectacular crime – the largest art theft in East Germany – this special exhibition illuminates the changing history of the collection in Gotha, which in the 20th century was marked by extensive losses, but also by returns. The spectrum ranges from the stolen goods of petty criminals to the looted art of Soviet trophy brigades, which transported cultural goods away on a large scale for the purpose of war reparations.
The example of Gotha is an example of an exciting chapter of German-German history that has not yet been completed. It tells of the rise, fall and rediscovery of a centuries-old collection that was completely lost and has since regained its historical significance.
A catalogue has been published for the exhibition, which presents the history of the Gotha art collections from the end of the 19th to the 20th century in 13 essays or short articles and a richly illustrated catalogue of objects, as well as the multifaceted history of loss and return, and the importance of the works of painting, graphics, numismatics and handicrafts are treated in detail. Wieder zurück in Gotha – Die verlorenen Meisterwerke is edited by Timo Trümper and published by Michael Imhof Verlag.