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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
12/23/2010

Porcelain masterpiece to be returned to heirs of former German prime minister

Settlement with Toledo Museum of Art provides for the return of the "Nereid Sweetmeat Stand" to the royal family that loaned the masterpiece to a German museum.

NEW YORK - Following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigation, the United States has entered into a settlement agreement with the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio that provides for the return to a royal family in Germany of the "Nereid Sweetmeat Stand," a famed Swan Service collection's centerpiece.

During the World War II, while on loan to the Dresden Museum from the family of the former prime minister of Saxony, the "Nereid Sweetmeat Stand" was stolen from a castle where it was hidden. The porcelain piece, valued at more than $1 million, was recently located at the Toledo Museum of Art, which has agreed to return it to the heirs of the former prime minister.

"ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments, art dealers, museums, and other organizations to recover stolen works of fine art and antiquities," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York. "These are precisely the types of investigations that HSI's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities Unit in New York City was established to identify and investigate."

In 1737, Count Heinrich von Bruehl, the prime minister of Saxony and the founding patron of the Meissen porcelain factory, ordered the factory's chief modeler to create a royal dinner service. The result, four years in the making, was the Swan Service - a service for 100 comprising 2,200 pieces. The Nereid Sweetmeat Stand, part of the centerpiece arrangement, is considered one of the masterpieces of the collection.

In August 1920, the Dresden Museum received 25 pieces from the Swan Service, including the Nereid stand, on permanent loan from the von Bruehl family. These pieces and 12 others from the Swan Service donated to the museum after 1920, were hidden at the Reichstaedt castle in Germany during Word War II. At the conclusion of the war, the boxes were found opened with the Nereid stand and several other pieces missing.

In 1955, the Stand was purchased from a European art dealer, subsequently imported into the United States, and sold to the Toledo Museum of Art. Recently, the Stand was determined to be the stolen Nereid Sweetmeat Stand after being examined by staff from the Toledo Museum of Art, the Dresden Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and special agents from ICE HSI.