Five paintings by Florentine Impressionists or Macchiaioli sent to Italy from the Public Art Gallery in Dunedin, New Zealand, for an exhibition at the Galleria Pananti last October are now being held by the Soprintendenza per i Beni artistic in Florence. It is alleged that they were stolen from the collection of Cino Vitta, head of the Jewish community in Florence during the war. Cino Vitta’s heirs, his brothers Jonathan and Nathaniel, have obtained both civil and penal distraint over the works of art. Vitta family lawyers say that the museum did not display due diligence. The Dunedin Museum bought the paintings in 1994 from the sister of one Arthur Fraser, who had acquired them in Italy when he was there with the New Zealand troops. He was an amateur painter and connoisseur and had bought the paintings in a souvenir shop, where he recognised them as Macchiaioli. The curators of the Public Art Gallery in Dunedin realised as soon as the old lady offered the paintings to them that they were dealing with art of very high quality—in a document they admitted to never having seen anything like it “even in Australia”. At that point, say the lawyers, they should have approached the Italian Ministry of Culture which would have checked the five paintings against the Siviero catalogue of works of art stolen during the war and alerted them to their illegal provenance. Now the Vitta brothers intend to obtain recognition from the court that these paintings are their property, and expect them to be returned to the family.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Florentine seizure of war-theft paintings'