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Dutch museums find 139 likely Nazi-looted artworks

AMSTERDAM — A major investigation into whether art hanging in Dutch museums may have once been Nazi loot has yielded an unexpectedly large result: 139 suspect works, including ones by Matisse, Klee, and Kandinsky.

The bombshell announcement Tuesday by the museums raises the question of why it has taken them nearly 70 years to examine their collections in a systematic way after World War II — and suggests that even more looted art may emerge from other countries.

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‘‘These objects are either thought or known to have been looted, confiscated, or sold under duress,’’ said Siebe Weide, of the Netherlands Museums Association. He said returning them is ‘‘both a moral obligation and one that we have taken upon ourselves.’’

The tainted art involved 69 paintings, including French artist Henri Matisse’s 1921 ‘‘Odalisque’’ painting of a
half-nude reclining woman, which hangs at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, one of the country’s top tourist draws.

All Dutch museums that hold art from before the war participated in the review. They have identified names of 20 definite looting victims and linked them with 61 of the works. The museums said they are in the process of contacting or seeking the heirs, including those of Jewish art dealer Albert Stern, the deceased owner of the Matisse.

Other paintings included works by old Dutch masters such as Jacob Cuyp, Impressionist Isaac Israels, and Modernists like Wassily Kandinsky.

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