A collection of 300 paintings worth millions of euros have been discovered in a Polish outhouse belonging to a 92-year-old former bricklayer, with police baffled as to how they got there.
The paintings were found mixed up with junk and rubbish in a dirty two-storey concrete building in the bricklayer’s garden near the north-western city of Szczecin.
Police said the mysterious collection included works of art from the Renaissance and German baroque periods, with the oldest painting dating back to 1532. They also discovered a lithograph by the Polish artist Jozef Czajkowski, which disappeared from a museum in Katowice during the war…
The collection, having suffered from its 66 years in the outhouse, has now been moved to a museum in Szczecin. “Many of the pictures are in a terrible condition and we’re trying to identify them and find out where they came from,” said Przmyslaw Kimon, spokesman for Szczecin police. “Some of them are Italian so we’re in contact with the Italian authorities, and we are also working with Interpol.”
But police admitted to being perplexed as to how the bricklayer, now charged with handling stolen art, came to possess the paintings. Their investigation has also been hindered by the fact that two strokes have left the man known only as Antoni M. [owing to reporting restrictions] unable to communicate.
Most theories revolve around the possibility that the bricklayer had somehow managed to get hold of a collection of looted art, abandoned in the chaotic last weeks of the Second World War as Germans put life before property in their efforts to escape the advancing Red Army…
Possessing an interest in art he decided to keep the paintings rather than turn them into the authorities.
He also decided to keep them out of public sight. Stashing them in hiding places in his outhouse, he made the building off-limits to even his closest family.
The news of the discovery was welcomed by Leszek Jodlinski, director of the Silesia Museum in Katowice, one of the museums stripped bare by the Nazis during the war, and the former home of the Czajkowski lithograph.
Amazing that they stayed hidden this long. Not that the atmosphere in an unheated outbuilding is conducive to longterm preservation of art and artifacts. Amazing that they survived the Nazi retreat. Pretty much every city in Poland was destroyed under Hitler’s command. Only Kraków was spared by a sympathetic German officer who refused to follow orders.
BTW – ever wish to see a great film about Resistance fighters stopping a Nazi art hoard from being carried off to Germany, rent The Train , starring Burt Lancaster.