British descendants of Jewish family who fled to Kenya to escape the Nazis are reunited with valuable painting they thought was lost forever

The Ferry by Jan van Goyen
The Ferry, painted by Dutch landscape artist Jan van Goyen (17th century, oil on canvas).

A 17th century oil painting by the Dutch artist Jan van Goyen which was stolen by the Nazis from its owners who had fled from Czechoslovakia to Kenya has been returned to the heirs of its rightful owner.

Until recently, ‘The Ferry’, a 1625 painting (alternatively known as The Harbour and Ferry with cattle, arriving in a Dutch village with a church and houses, and expecting passengers) was hanging on the walls of the National Gallery in Prague. But after being confiscated by the Nazis in 1943, the descendants of Erwin Langweil were reunited with the painting last month at the offices of Christie’s auction house in London where it is being offered for sale in its Old Masters Evening Sale on Thursday with an estimated price of £300,000.

As the Nazis overran Prague in April 1939, like so many Jewish families fleeing the Gestapo, Erwin was forced to leave behind some of his most treasured possessions, including this rare and valuable oil painting.

Leaving Czechoslovakia with the bare minimum, the family fled to Mombasa in Kenya, where Erwin had business in the sugar plantation industry.

Erwin had two surviving children. Lena Lowi settled in the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin, while her brother Fritz relocated to Ontario in Canada where he died childless in 2001. Therefore the rightful heirs when the case began were Lena’s sons (Lena died in 2005), George and Peter (or Petr) Lowi. Peter has since died, so the heirs are now his son Andy Lowi and his sister Carolyn McGarry, along with George Lowi.

Langweil’s great grandson Andy, who lives in Bedfordshire, said: “My initial reaction was it has got to be a hoax, or there would be a catch, but we soon realised it wasn’t.

“We knew that there was the possibility there would be something out there, but we didn’t know where it was. Nobody ever thought in a million years that anyone would ever be able to get that back or do anything about it,” he added.

Its restitution follows a complex claim, informed by detective and legal work by historians, provenance researchers and lawyers across multiple jurisdictions. It was carried out by a Toronto based Mondex Corporation which works to recover fine art and other property stolen by the Nazis.

Mondex works for a fee or commission calculated on a percentage to recover fine art and other assets looted during the Second World War.

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