Alexandria Auction House Discovers Painting Stolen During WW II

Potomack Auction Co. to host repatriation ceremony for return to Ukraine.


Nearly 80 years after a monumental oil painting of Ivan the Terrible went missing from a museum in Ukraine, the 1911 work by artist Mikhail Panin is headed home.

Stolen during World War II and thought to be destroyed, the massive 7½’ x 8 ½;’ canvas depicts the 16th-century Russian czar fleeing the Kremlin on horseback.

In 2017, before retiring to a smaller residence, a couple from Ridgefield, Conn., Mr. and Mrs. David Tracy, reached out to the Potomack Company auction gallery in Alexandria to sell their artwork, which included the “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina.” 

The gallery is located at 1120 N. Fairfax St., in Alexandria.

When the painting arrived at Potomack, fine arts specialist Anne Craner began researching it. She eventually connected with a museum in Ukraine, which sent her photos taken in 1929 of that very painting at what was then the Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum. It was also included in a museum inventory of “artworks taken to Germany by the Hitlerites.”

Mrs. Tracy is a Holocaust survivor. She and her husband were unaware of the history of the painting, which was conveyed with their Ridgefield home when they purchased it in 1987.

In 1962, it conveyed with the sale of the house in Ridgefield, by a Swiss citizen who emigrated to the United States in 1946. After the sale, the prior owners of the home located a certificate in the attic of the house commemorating the original homeowner’s service in the Swiss Army during the Second World War. The original homeowner passed away in 1986. 

The Tracys appreciated the need to return the painting to its rightful home.

Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, owner and CEO of The Potomack Company, then contacted the FBI and worked with the agency and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which handled the case and collaborated with Ukraine diplomats to arrange the painting’s return to its native country. (Read the official complaint from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.)

The Potomack Company noted that they are pleased with the happy ending for this story and will host a repatriation ceremony at its gallery in Old Town Alexandria Monday, Sept. 9.

Attending the ceremony will be the Ukranian ambassador, the FBI, the State Department, the U.S. Attorney’s office for D.C., and the family who consigned the painting.

In addition to the painting from Ukraine, Potomack’s academic research has been pivotal in the successful return of other works of art and historic documents to institutions and museums. These include an Alexander Hamilton letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, now back in the Massachusetts Archives; a pair of historic marble urns returned to Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a long-lost Renoir once again at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“Our team is passionate about discovering the stories behind the objects we touch every day,” Wainstein said. “It’s important that these pieces be returned, and it’s gratifying to see research reunite art with its original caretakers.” 

Also read:

The Last Word: Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein

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