Residents of an assisted living community in Texas may not have recognized the artwork hanging on a fellow resident’s walls, but the three paintings had been hidden from the Allies during World War II and subsequently were won in a poker game by a U.S. tank commander, who shipped them home.
That’s according to a New York Times article quoting the late officer’s 71-year-old stepson, James Hetherington of Dallas, who said the pieces had been in his family for seven decades, most recently hanging in the room of Maj. William S. Oftebro’s widow at an assisted living community. Hetherington said he has known of the provenance of the paintings—Frans Francken III’s “The Prodigal Son,” Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich’s “Rocky Landscape with Trees and Water in the Foreground” and Franz de Paula Ferg’s “Landscape with Staffage”—for 20 years, according to the newspaper, but he did not contact authorities because of “the losses so many had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.” He changed his mind, however, after seeing the film “Monuments Men,” a fictionalized account of the soldiers who protected many of the artworks hidden during the war. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had prohibited members of the armed forces from looting.
The three paintings were returned to German Ambassador Peter Wittig at a May 5 Department of State ceremony organized by the Monuments Men Foundation. Two other paintings were returned as well.