The louvre

The Louvre’s art sleuth is on the hunt for looted paintings

Polack had already made a name for himself abroad, as a member of an international task force in Germany following the discovery of around 1,500 works taken away by Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand, bought works of art for Hitler.

While working for the task force, she discovered the key to Dorville’s story. She looked at the back of a portrait of the impressionist painter Jean-Louis Forain and discovered a yellowed label, with an article number from the catalog of the auction in Nice. “CABINET d’un AMATEUR PARISIEN”, we read, without any other information on the identity of the seller.

Intrigued, she goes to town and discovers in the public archives the sale catalogs, the minutes of the auctions, the identity of the seller and documents proving the involvement of the Jewish Affairs Commission of the Vichy government. Working with a genealogy firm, she located and then befriended the Dorville heirs.

“His tenacity, his combativeness are incredible,” said Philippe Dagen, art historian and critic at Le Monde newspaper who wrote a book on looted art with Polack.

“The Indiana Jones of looted paintings” is how Le Point magazine described her.

Nearly eight decades after the auction, the aftermath of the Nice sale continues to haunt France, pitting the French government against the Dorville heirs, rekindling the ugly history of the Louvre’s involvement in a problematic sale, and putting Polack in an awkward position.

Dorville’s heirs argue that the sale of his artwork was forced under wartime anti-Jewish laws, making it an illegal act of “spoliation” or pillage. They argue that if the government had given them the proceeds from the auction, the five family members who perished at Auschwitz might have found a way to survive.