2006 – Allori’s painting, believed to be destroyed in 1945, resurfaced
This very small painting is a portrait of Eleonora of Toledo (1522-1562), wife of Cosimo de Medici I, the first Duke of Florence. It was most likely painted in the 1570s after Eleonora’s death, and it is generally attributed to Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), pupil of Agnolo Bronzino.
The painting was first noted as missing in 1944, and for the following 50 years, it was believed to be lost or destroyed. Instead, it was in the possession of Charles Wheeler, a distinguished Berlin correspondent of the BBC’s German Service. In the 1950s, Wheeler interacted with several listeners in the Soviet Occupation Zone, including a farmer from near Frankfurt an der Oder, who gave him the painting as a wedding gift. The farmer had received the painting from a Russian soldier in exchange for two sacks of potatoes to make vodka with. In 2005, it was by chance that Wheeler showed his beloved painting to Anne Webber and the team of The Commission for Looted Art in Europe during research for a BBC program about the loss of works of art during World War II. After thorough research carried out at German museums and archives, the provenance of the painting was established and the Gemäldegalerie recognized its long-lost painting.
Charles Wheeler immediately expressed the wish to return the painting to its rightful owner, and the painting was indeed returned to the Berlin Gemäldegalerie by the Commission for Looted Art and Charles Wheeler on May 31, 2006. It was the first work of art published in the Gemäldegalerie’s catalogue of war losses (1995) to be identified and returned to the Berlin museum. As Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, declared: “The return of this painting today gives us hope that other lost paintings will be returned.”