On 23 July 2019, Peter Forner from Berlin handed over a painting by the French painter Nicolas Rousseau to the French State, represented by Ambassador Anne-Marie Descôtes, at the French Embassy. During the Second World War, the painting was transported from France to Berlin, where it remains in the custody of the Forner family to this day.
Peter Forner’s father, Alfred Forner, was stationed in Normandy during the Second World War as a non-commissioned Air Force officer. Before a visit to his hometown in September 1944, his superior entrusted him with a painting whose origin could still not be clearly reconstructed. On his arrival in Berlin, Alfred Forner discovered that the building where he was to hand over the artwork had been destroyed, and so took it to his private apartment. Alfred Forner died in the same year shortly after his return to France. The painting was kept first by his wife and later by his son Peter.
For Peter Forner, handing over the work of art means more than just clarifying the ownership. To him, it is a contribution towards overcoming our common past and towards Franco-German friendship.
At the initiative and request of Peter Forner, the painting was handed over to the French State for safekeeping. Despite extensive research in Germany and France by the CIVS and the Mission de recherche et de restitution des biens culturels spoliés entre 1933 et 1945 of the French Ministry of Culture, the origin of the artwork could not yet be clearly determined. The painting will be exhibited in a museum or city hall in France and will be given a plaque that traces its history while the provenance research continues. The intention is to inform the public about the past of the artwork and hopefully identify the rightful owner.
This voluntary return of a painting by a private person is unique gesture valued all the more by the French government who has been able to find this quick and particular solution by exhibiting an artwork in a public institution while research continues.