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1979 East German art heist may have included Rembrandt


A Dutch portrait stolen 42 years ago in the largest art heist in East German history may be a Rembrandt, according to a new report.

The painting, Alter Mann, or Old Man, was one of five works stolen from Friedenstein Palace in Gotha, according to the Sunday Times of London.

The piece, which went on display in Gotha last month, was for years thought to be a copy of another work, dated 1632 and signed by the Dutch master himself.

The curator, Timo Trümper, told the paper that, upon restoration, closer analysis suggested it is may predate the painting from 1632, which is on display at the Harvard Art Museums.


“The style of our painting is not very controlled. It was created in a free and virtuosic manner and that led to initial doubts about the theory that it’s a copy,” Trümper told the paper. “Also, we detected pentimenti, changes undertaken during the painting process that are in lower layers and not visible to the eye, showing alterations around the beard and the clothing. That would tend to rule out that it is a copy.”

The five paintings were together reported to be worth about $5.4 million.

The painting, Alter Mann, or Old Man, was one of five works stolen from Friedenstein Palace in Gotha, Germany.
picture alliance via Getty Images

They were stolen one rough night in December 1979 — by a burglar who climbed nearly 32 feet up a wall before smashing through a window.

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The theft led to an investigation by the Stasi — the infamous secret police of the communist German Democratic Republic.

Germany’s Spiegel magazine in 2020 identified Rudi Bernhardt, a train operator, as the possible thief.

Bernhardt is suspected of smuggling the works into West Germany and giving them away to friends. Their heirs offered the paintings to the head of Gotha, leading to their return.

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