Piotr Gliński announced the return of the canvas at a news conference in Warsaw on Wednesday, Polish state news agency PAP reported.
The culture minister said: “Another work of art lost during World War II is returning to Poland.”
He added: “It’s the exceedingly beautiful painting by Alessandro Turchi, Maria With Child, dated to between the late 16th century and the early 17th century.”
Gliński told reporters: “It’s the first painting stolen during the war that we have recovered in Japan, in the Far East. A big thank you to everyone who helped make it happen.”
The culture minister said that a Polish expert located the painting through an online search at a Japanese house called Mainichi Auction Inc. in January last year.
The painting was due to go under the hammer, reporters were told.
Gliński, who is also a deputy prime minister, said the situation “wasn’t easy” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted opportunities for face-to-face talks, as well as due to cultural differences between Poland and Japan, "as well as the fact that Japan was an occupying power during World War II.”
Gliński said: “Thanks to very good work and an awareness of cultural differences, the Japanese auction house and the painting’s owner decided to return the artwork to Poland at no charge.”
“The Japanese side agreed with our position and accepted all the legal, cultural and historical points,” he added.
Gliński told reporters that Maria With Child was officially returned to the Polish government at a ceremony at the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
Maria With Child returns to Poland after 83 years
Turchi’s Maria With Child was stolen by the German occupying forces from the Lubomirski Palace in the southeastern Polish town of Przeworsk in 1940, according to officials.
The painting features as item No. 145 in Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im Generalgouvernement, a 1940 Nazi German catalogue listing 521 artworks stolen from Polish collections, the PAP news agency reported.
During World War II, Maria With Child was transferred to Germany and its later whereabouts were unknown, officials said.
In the late 1990s, the painting was sold at an auction in New York, the PAP news agency reported.
Gliński said on Wednesday: “Maria With Child was part of the art collection gathered by the Lubomirski aristocratic family in Przeworsk. And so it will likely go to the new Lubomirski Museum, which is under construction in Wrocław,” in Poland's southwest.
Source: PAP, gov.pl